Toulouse For Death
Gregory C. Randall
“The village was dead,” Alain Dumont said, as he breathed through the plastic oxygen nose prongs hung, like a painting, from his ears. “Mind you, this was not the first village we fought through and destroyed. But, it was the first one in Germany. All the frustrations, anger, and need for revenge that had built up during our advances through eastern France and Luxemburg were now focused on this first German town. It did not escape our pent-up rage.”
He heaved again and tried to shake horrific sixty-year-old memories off his shoulders. “The village was utterly and completely flattened. Me and my boys walked single file in a track no more than a foot wide; barely room for a dog. The rubble, blasted from the buildings, filled the street. The buildings still smoldered and bodies lay half-in and half-out of the wreckage. God, those Germans loved their brick, now they were buried under it.” He slowly took another breath. “There were fucking snipers in the church towers; we’d advance a block and take fire from everywhere. Some of my men pushed through the interior walls of the buildings; they dug and blasted their way from house to house. Sometimes it was quicker than waltzing down the center of the street with a sniper’s bullet for a dance partner. We lost fewer men that way. If we were lucky, we had a tank following us, they rolled over everything. If a sniper fired, we leveled everything over a foot tall ahead of us; it was an advance by attrition. We left nothing alive. But these villages were full of cellars, some interconnected, many filled with old people who wouldn’t leave. Funny thing was that we didn’t see a lot of younger women and kids, they were gone. We found them hiding in the tunnels later; those damn tunnels were under all of this section of Germany. And to be honest, I was glad. Never did like killing women.”
Sharon O’Mara sat in the huge green leather wingback chair, her back to the church-like leaded glass windows. The sun cast a panel of light across the oriental carpet to the base of a library wall that held thousands of books. Dark wood filled the spaces between the shelves and the artwork. Caught in the full wash of the sunlight, wrapped in a multi-colored cloak, sat a wizened old man, oxygen tubes and paraphernalia coiled over the back of his chair, like attacking snakes. A man, dressed in dark gray, stood two paces behind. Sharon had been introduced earlier; Remy Adler was Dumont’s nurse and assistant.
“Don’t fret Sharon, Remy here doesn’t understand English well, but he’s a great help,” Dumont said. “So, where was I? Oh yes, yes, yes. What I’m telling you now no one alive, other than myself, knows.”
It started with the usual hello…
“Sharon dear, Evelyn Lucca here. How are you?” Evelyn Lucca, of the STIA leather goods company, was a close friend since Sharon O’Mara had cleaned out the nest of Chinese gangs who had used her company as one of the world’s most dangerous drop-shipper of guns, sex slaves and forged handbags.
“Evelyn, what can I help you with?” O’Mara said with a curt tone to her voice.
“Always straight and to the point. And Sharon dear, work on your friendly demeanor once and a while.”
“Sorry, Evelyn, just been a tough day since sun up. Basil threw-up on the carpet, the power went out for an hour so the clocks and the computer are screwed up, and now they say my new car won’t be ready until Friday. Just annoyed, that’s all. What’s up, and again, I’m sorry?”
“I may have another job for you,” Lucca said.
O’Mara’s interest shot up, she was getting a little tired of chasing down inflammatory YouTube videos sent around by a guy who didn’t like the barbeque sauce at her favorite rib joint. She needed a real gig.
“Tell me more, Evelyn. Momma might be interested, right Basil?”
“How is the old mutt? I miss him.”
“He misses you too, but thankfully he’s lost the ten pounds he gained when you shared our house and he’s getting more exercise, that bullet in his hip may have slowed him down, but he, like the rest of us, is finally over it.”
“Sharon, this isn’t just a job; it’s also a personal favor to my family. Do you know who Alain Dumont is?”
“Yes, the high-tech investor and billionaire, I thought he died a few years ago?”
“Yes, one in the same and even though he has his challenges, he’s still alive and, thank God, has all of his senses. Alain is an old friend of my father’s since just after World War Two. They met in Paris, both survivors of the Nazis and the war. Alain immigrated to the United States about five years after the war, to San Francisco in fact, and, through his investments, became very, very rich. He never forgot his friends and has helped my father and our family with investment capital for almost fifty years; his advice is even more beneficial.”
“You do have the nicest friends, Evelyn. What can I do?”
“Sharon, Alain is ninety-three years old, still sharp, but his body is wearing out. There are some things, he says, that need to be done before he dies. This isn’t some sad affair but something he’s happy to do and is looking forward to it. He asked if we knew someone we trusted to help him with some delicate issues. He assures me that it’s all legal, but the person must be a woman. He’s always been a ladies’ man, so debonair, so casually elegant; in fact, he’s my godfather. I can only attest to his honesty and our family’s close relationship. I don’t know what the job is, what’s involved, or even what it’s worth. That’s between the two of you. He would like to meet you, a casual interview, just you and him.”
For a long moment Sharon thought about the late summer and what she had on her schedule, a scribbled note on the pad at her desk said ‘tomatoes’, “Just checking a few things. My usual arrangement, like the one with you and your family, would that work?”
“I think you need to find out what the job is first; Alain never does anything small.”
And that is exactly what Sharon O’Mara found out. Two days later, she met with Alain Dumont at his mansion on upper Broadway in San Francisco. He asked very pointed questions about her experience, her sense of privacy, her skills as both an investigator and as an experienced soldier. When she told him about Iraq, he became irritated and excited. He asked questions about tactics and weapons, the enemy’s defensive actions and logistics. He told her that he had spent the summer and fall of 1944 and all of 1945 in parts of France and Germany.
After two hours, he offered her a scotch and a job.
She smiled and said, “Yes.”
“Good. I really don’t give a damn what the doctors say, a good drink is an excellent way to seal a deal and feel better. I’m happy to have you as a part of my small family. I would like to have a follow-up meeting tomorrow. Evelyn says that you work with contracts, so do I. This is my contract,” Dumont said as he extended his hand. “I’ll pay you one hundred thousand dollars and cover all your expenses. You’ll be given a credit card that you can use however you see fit. Evelyn said you were having some problems with a car; use the card to get them fixed. I need you working with me, not worrying about transportation. Have all the bills sent directly to me, I want no worries.”
A stunned O’Mara pushed aside the tubes and kissed the gentleman on his cheek; he smiled, and kissed her back, as best he could. Remy had not attended the interview.
“Sharon, I mean this in the most lascivious way. If I was only fifty years younger, you, my dear, would be in big trouble.”
She blushed, and kissed his cheek again. “Mr. Dumont, I mean this in the most welcoming manner, so would you.”
The next day, Sharon sat in the green chair in the elegant room dressed in a soft yellow blouse and white slacks. Enthralled and gobsmacked, she listened as Alain Dumont told her the most remarkable, intriguing story she had ever heard in her life.
“I was drafted and put in an infantry regiment that was part of Patton’s Third Army. After the Normandy landing, yes, yes, I was there, Sharon, I crawled up the beach in the late afternoon,” Dumont said, a touch of sadness entered his eyes. “We pushed through the hedgerows, where I lost a lot of friends and watched stupid stunts get men killed. The Germans were experienced; many had fought on the Russian front, and they were grateful to be in France. We tried hard to make sure they died there in those hedgerows. To be dead in Russia or France, who gives a damn, but being captured was a different matter, the good German soldier would kill himself before being captured by the Russians.”
“Did you free Paris?” Sharon asked.
“I thought our division would take the city, but we were then positioned to the south, near Fontainebleau; I wouldn’t see Paris until after the war. We pushed beyond Paris in the late summer and then toward Verdun and Metz; we called Metz the “Meat Grinder.” That city ate us up. Patton pushed us hard to attack, but we couldn’t move fast enough; we were exhausted and running out of gas. Metz was a city of forts and Fort Driant was the worst; we should have just gone around it, thousands died trying to take it. Patton still pushed us forward; it gave the Germans time. They resupplied their men and then they killed us. There were so many dead that our men were stacked into trucks like they were nothing, remains to be gotten out of the way, it was so wrong.” Dumont inhaled slowly, a shiver passed through his body. “After Metz was taken, we kept pushing east, past the Maginot Line. The last Germans in the area surrendered in early December. We thought the rest was going to be easy, then Christmas and . . .”
“The Battle of the Bulge,” Sharon interrupted.
“Yes, it’s not what we called it, that’s something the press corps or somebody else cooked up from a map or plan of the region, the Germans pushed a westward bulge into our advance. We were a hundred miles to the south, on the other side of Luxemburg, and that son-of-a-bitch Patton pushed us through the coldest fucking winter I’ll never forget; lost two toes, they froze off. I remember being stuck in a hole in the ground blasted out by a German 88, or some other gun; there was a foot of frozen water at the bottom of that hole. I hid there for two days, praying to a God that I knew in my heart had turned his back on us. For two days, I stared at the head of a German soldier, his helmet still strapped under his chin. It sat on the edge of the crater, his eyes frozen open. I tried to push it away but I took fire from someone; hell, it could have been an American thinking the guy was still alive. My coat froze to the ice; if I had to get out I’d have had to take my coat off. That’s when I met Gillis and Graham.”
“Jimmy Gillis and Danny Graham, they joined my outfit as green replacements a month before; I saw them around but didn’t know them. We were taking tree bursts and all hell was exploding and these two guys jumped into my hole. For two days we talked and got to know each other, covered each other when we had to take a crap or a piss, or crawl out to get ammunition and food. You tell yourself, never get close to anybody, the guy could be dead in a second, but somehow we managed to hang together. One way or another, we saved each other’s lives, more than once.”
“There were stories that the German’s were killing prisoners?” Sharon asked.
“Yes, it was true. It pissed our boys off so much that there were rumors that there weren’t a lot of German prisoners for a long time. War is war, write all the rules you want but, in the cold of a fucking winter it’s simple, kill or die; protect your buddy, kill the enemy. I took a grenade fragment about this time, cut a small piece out of my shoulder; it got me out of the war for two weeks, then right back into hell. We pushed east then north, one time we had to double back, we got too far ahead of our supplies. Learned a lot about trucks and logistics then; always keep the supply lines open.”
“You need to rest,” Sharon said, refilling his water glass.
“Sharon, in a few weeks or months, or, God forbid, years, I’ll be getting all the rest I need, and I’m not even to the best part yet.”
“Best part?” O’Mara asked.
“Oh yes, my dear, the best part. The frozen woods of January became the sodden fields of late winter; I’m not sure what’s worse, frozen ground or mud so thick it sucks your boots off. This was the stuff that made trench foot popular. If your toes didn’t freeze off, they rotted off. By March we were well within Germany, the German’s were fighting for their homes; the killing became even more brutal. Children carried guns and killed my men; the only thing you could believe in was your buddies.”
“Iraq was the same, but different. Hot and cold, dry and wet. The heat could set off our munitions, or freeze fingers in winter. Children also carried guns and blew themselves up. My war was also a battle of surprises, anxious road trips and exploding drainage ditches,” O’Mara said refilling her coffee cup.
“All wars are the same, yet different,” Dumont said. “Then April came and for a few weeks the weather warmed and the sun turned the mud to solid ground. Flecks of green started to appear in the gray landscape. I remember walking through the wreck of a village and seeing tulips and daffodils pushing their way up through the debris. Outside a burned-out farmhouse was a dead German soldier, had been there a while, a red tulip had grown through his swollen, rotting hand. Other flowers pushed their way up around his carcass; I still think about that, it was something to see. Then came April 10th and my world changed.” He stopped and slyly looked at her. “How about lunch?”
“Lunch, you’ve got to be kidding,” Sharon said. “Lunch?”
“Yes, lunch, I’m hungry and I know you are too. I’ll ring for Remy and we’ll have a civil lunch with a delicious French wine from my own vineyard and then I will tell you the rest of the story.”
Sharon helped Dumont to his feet and they walked into the small alcove off to the side of the library; the glassed-in porch overlooked San Francisco Bay. The Golden Gate Bridge framed the left side and Alcatraz captured the center of the view. The Bay was calm, hundreds of sailboats scurried about; two ferries passed each other on their way to and from Sausalito and Fisherman’s Wharf.
A small salad with Dungeness crab was served on porcelain plates, real silverware graced the table, elegant crystal goblets held a crisp French Sancerre, crunchy sourdough bread sat in a large basket.
“To our new partnership,” Dumont said as he lifted his glass.
O’Mara returned the toast. “Wonderful salad, and the wine, lovely.”
“From my vineyard along the Loire. It was one of the first things I purchased when I began my “evil empire,” as I call it. That was long before the Star Wars movies and other such things. Calling it that always helped me to remember its roots; roots that only I knew.”
“You’re the most curious person I’ve ever met, Mr. Dumont, and beguiling. Could you go on?”
“Easily, my dear, easily,” Dumont said as his eyes strayed to the Bay, a red container ship was passing in front of Alcatraz, ‘PCL’ in huge white letters marked on its side. “That March we pushed toward Frankfurt, then northeast to Fulda, by April 2 we were near Bad Hersfeld. The Germans were surrendering in huge numbers, took several men to guard them, it pulled good men off the line. But some of their outfits did not give up; most of those bastards were SS. This part of Germany was a contorted terrain of rolling hills and valleys and was riddled with mineshafts. Every village had towers that ran elevators deep under the countryside into hundreds of miles of salt and potassium tunnels. The tops of the hills were carved out with open mines, their slopes were covered in thick forests; and the flatter open valleys were farmlands. Actually, apart from the fact that everything and everyone wanted to kill you, it was very pleasant.” Dumont took another sip of wine. “Then my world changed.”
Alain Dumont stood and slowly walked to the window and braced his hands on the dark wood sill, fog had started to push its way under the Bridge; its long tongue licked the western rocks of Alcatraz. He almost vibrated from the strain of the effort.
“Gillis, Graham and I, along with the rest of our squad, were ordered to take a hilltop that held a commanding view of our advance,” he continued. “No Germans were seen until we reached the top; then all hell broke out. Two of my guys were taken out immediately. We quickly pulled back down the hill and regrouped. I split the rest of our squad to keep them occupied and I took Gillis and Graham to flank the crest and come at them from the rear. We found the road they used to reach the top; two light trucks with SS insignia were parked a hundred yards below their location. We took out the drivers and worked our way up and, in less than five minutes, killed them all, or at least that’s what we thought. The rest of our squad came up and secured the command post. One German was on his last breath; he was bleeding out and our medic couldn’t stop it, he kept saying over and over, “Goldbarren, Goldmynzens,” over and over. Gillis wanted to know what he was saying and I said gold bars and gold coins. Where, I asked. Merkers was the German’s reply. He held on for another ten minutes, then he died.”
“My German was pretty good, my real parents emigrated from the Alsace region around the turn of the last century, they were killed in a train accident when I was about one and I was raised in the German-settled area of Pennsylvania. My step parents taught me French and German; it’s been a big help all my life.”
Dumont poured more Sancerre in Sharon’s glass. She could not take her eyes off the man.
“Nothing like a little treasure and loot to get a soldier’s blood pumping,” Dumont said, as he poured a small amount into his own glass and saluted Sharon. “My boys held the top and patched up our two injured from the first assault. Gillis, Graham, and I decided to scout ahead, and see where the road led, it wasn’t on our maps, didn’t want any surprises. The three of us went back to the road and worked our way down the hill. We stumbled onto an abandoned side road that dead-ended at a tunnel cut in the face of the hill; twin iron doors secured the entry. Vines and debris had hidden the road and the doors for a long time. We hiked back to the main road and then down into Merkers. As German villages go, it was small; a huge elevator tower stood in its center, and we weren’t the first GIs to reach the village. It looked like the staging area for the next advance. We found out quickly that it really was the biggest legitimate looting job in history. We had walked into a robbery.”
Dumont escorted Sharon back to the library, Remy cleared the plates and silverware; Sharon noticed that he would take furtive glances in their direction from time to time. She was fairly certain Adler knew more English than Dumont let on or maybe even knew about.
“Hidden in the salt tunnels and mines under Merkers, for miles in almost every direction, was the entire wealth of Germany in gold, German marks, English pounds, and U.S. currency. The art collections from its museums were stored here as well as thousands of pieces of stolen and plundered art. Hitler wanted to keep this treasure from the Allies and only in the late months of the war did he allow his nation’s wealth to be moved from Berlin and hidden there. As fate would have it, questions to some displaced French women by American military policemen and some good follow-up led to the discovery of the horde. By today’s gold standards, the mass of gold was worth tens of billions; even then it was worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Chaos reigned. Even Eisenhower and Patton were given a tour of the tunnels. Our regiment, along with a couple of others, was ordered to guard the tunnels and help with the transfer. At one time there were a thousand men coming and going, they even lowered jeeps into the tunnels to help move the stuff; they brought up the gold in small munitions trailers and whatever else they could find. It was all so bizarre, men were dying by the thousands, not more than ten miles away, and we were focused on moving a hundred tons of gold and art. Bizarre.”
“What did you do?” Sharon asked.
“What all good soldiers do, follow orders. They had some of us in the tunnels, in fact we all rotated, but it was so oppressive and corrosive down there that our guys couldn’t last more than a few hours at a time. They would leave and then others would be sent down to relieve them, I think the three of us went up and down maybe ten times, it was almost a half mile down. It was like Danté’s hell had been decorated with Renoirs and Titans. As I said, it was bizarre.”
“Must’ve been hard to resist putting a few baubles in your pocket?” Sharon asked, with a smile.
“Way beyond that,” he said, returning her smile. “Soldiering and war just bring out the best in men. Some of history’s finest art is memorialized in paintings like the Sack of Rome and the Rape of the Sabine Women. Sad, but that’s the way of it. It was like that then. As the three of us were coming up out of the tunnel, we came up with a brilliant idea to help ourselves to some of the loot. Hell, we were tired and rationalized that we’d earned it fighting across Europe. We were all in our early twenties, and if there is one thing a soldier wants more than a piece of ass, it’s loot, treasure, booty. So we hatched a plan. We were involved in moving the small trailers loaded with gold up from the tunnels and getting them to the next area where they were staged above ground before going on to Frankfurt. Every once in a while, a bar would disappear and end up in a large manure pile situated against one of the barns, we lost count of how many we buried there. But when you’re moving thousands of bars and boxes and bags of gold, some just naturally get lost.”
“Naturally,” she said. “We found treasure in one of Saddam’s palaces, a safe with two hundred and fifty million U.S. dollars in new one hundred-dollar bills, still in their original Federal Reserve wrappers. War is big business. There were rumors that some of that money just disappeared before the Treasury boys could get there. Looking back, it sure would have been nice. As you can see, I’m not that kind of girl.”
“There’s a larcenist in everyone’s soul at one time or another, all-out war knocks down all the moral walls and teachings you’ve learned and then opportunity becomes the governor of your life.”
“Sad, but true.”
“Well, Graham and Gillis went back to retrieve one of the SS trucks still up on the hill. The Allies were using German trucks whenever we could; they took some paint to cover the SS insignias and the other markings. Gillis painted a big US on the door and roof. Looked strange but they wanted to make sure that some P-38 didn’t take a shot at them. Graham tied a U.S. flag to the panel on the side. They drove the truck to the back of the staging area, pulled the keys, disabled the distributor and went back to work. The next morning, the gold convoy left for Frankfurt. It was strange, military police front and back, planes flying cover, hell, it looked like a battalion was acting as security. Then they started to bring up art, boxes, crates, bundles of paintings, sculpture, everything was chaos again, but at least the stuff was lighter. Not to be left out, we took two bundles of canvases.”
“Yes, bundles. Someone had removed the paintings from their frames and just rolled them up, like a bedroll. Must have been twenty paintings in the rolls; one said ‘Goldfarb’ on the outside paper wrapper, there were four paintings in that one. Gillis thought it was funny that, after all the gold, someone would wrap the paintings and label them ‘Goldfarb’. Silently I disagreed, I thought to myself that someone named Goldfarb probably owned these before the war, someone who was now very dead.”
“Stolen by the Nazis?” Sharon asked.
“Most probably, we hid those bundles in the barn, under some straw. I also took the most delightful small statuette of a dancer. Then the three of us waited.”
Sharon looked past Dumont to the small alcove centrally placed within the shelves of books; even she could tell that the small bronze statue of a ballerina was a Degas. She looked back at the old soldier.
“Yes, strong yet delicate; forceful yet so feminine. Yes, that’s the one.” Dumont turned his head toward the statue, Sharon saw a slight shiver pass his cheek, “But back to the end of the story; the art left the next day, not as much hub-bub as when the gold left. That evening, we pulled out the bars, and stacked the rolls of paintings in the truck. In all the scrounging around for boxes to put the bars in, we also found a rough box that had been stacked with some others; it was sitting next to the elevator doors, like it had been placed there quickly. The name ‘Trittenheim Winery’ was stenciled on its side, most of the other boxes had German labels and swastikas or the formal imprint of the German army on them, only this one said winery; we took it to celebrate. We loaded our bars, they weighed about twenty-five pounds each, in the boxes. We ended up with forty bars, or about a half ton. I never thought we took that many. But busy hands, and six of ‘em to boot, are happy hands, and, well there we were. We loaded everything in the truck, slid out that night; I remember that it was during a rain shower, or something. We wrapped the paintings in green army canvas, and headed back to the tunnel in the side of the hill.”
“No one saw you, it was that easy?”
“Can’t say that for sure, but everyone was exhausted from working in the tunnels, so the camp was quiet, most of the security had left with the caravan. In fact, I don’t even remember sentries being posted, the war was almost over and the front was fifty miles away, we were lax. We managed to open the iron doors and clear away some old machinery. We drove the truck inside. We couldn’t resist looking at the paintings, the largest was rolled out and I took Gillis’ and Graham’s photo standing in front of the painting, like the trophy it was; I was struck by its colors. Gillis took the camera, a little Kodak Brownie that he carried through the war, getting film when he could; I never did see the photos. We shut the door, raked out our tracks, and hiked back to camp. We agreed to meet after the war so we set a date and location, and hoped the loot would still be there; we would figure out how to get it home at that time. As I said, we were three war-weary twenty-year olds, our future was getting better and every day the war’s end was nearer.”
“The next morning, we were getting ready to move and catch up with the war. I said there were prisoners everywhere, we forced many to help with the removal of the gold, kept an eye on them, but used them. These prisoners were now being marched to the rear. A small group of SS officers were held to one side, separate from the regular army. I’ve never seen a more professional dangerous group of men; they looked at us with disdain and at their own people with disgust, as though surrender was not an option. But there they stood, as prisoners. I couldn’t let it pass. Me, I had to get in their faces, stupid, but you know me by now. One SS officer stood six inches taller than the others, blond, his uniform dirty, but by the cut it wasn’t standard issue, he had a swagger and couldn’t have been more than a year or two older than me, and he was an SS Obersturmführer, like a 1st lieutenant, but I knew different. I had seen a lot of Germans by then, this guy was more than what his uniform said he was.”
“He was disguised as a lower grade? Strange, thought their egos wouldn’t let that happen.”
“Yes, but I’d seen it before. So I got in his face and started yelling at him in German, shocked the hell out him. He thought we were all inferiors, till I ripped him a new one.”
“What’s your name, Adolf?” I screamed in German. “Why the hell are you dressed like a prick Obersturmführer, Kraut? Wie ist Ihr Name? Jetzt, sofort!”
“The others in his little group moved away from the man, like they thought he would explode and take them with him. I’ll never forget that man, he didn’t blink, ignored me the whole time, his sharp blue eyes stared directly over my head, like I didn’t exist.”
“Mein Name ist SS-Obersturmführer Otto Speyer, Schwein!” was all he said, I laughed in his face; he had the audacity to call me a pig. I’ll remember him till the day I die; he had a large dueling scar on his left cheek. I always wondered what happened to the poor cadet who gave him that scar.”
“What happened to him?”
“Don’t know, we moved on, they were moved to the rear. Never saw them again and, for that matter, I never really cared.”
“Obviously you survived, what happened to Gillis and Graham?” Sharon asked.
“A week later, we were crossing an open cornfield, keeping low. We were taking some small arms fire from the woods, we were told that this was one of the last die-hard divisions left in the area, and they did die hard. We were only expecting rifle and machine gun fire, when the sky opened up with mortars; the German mortars were better than ours and more powerful, I hit the ground and felt the concussions for fifteen minutes, it seemed like hours. They must have fired every mortar left in this part of Germany; hundreds fell. I crawled through the debris and found Graham; he was dead. Cut in two. I looked for Gillis, found his left arm, knew it was him from the high school ring he wore. Still remember it to this day, ‘Roosevelt High School’ it said. I pulled it off; eventually I sent it to his mother anonymously. Never found his body. I started to pull back and, just as I reached the tree line, another barrage hit. I woke up a week later in a hospital in Luxemburg.”
Out of habit Sharon reached for her cigarettes, and then caught herself.
“That’s all right, if it weren’t for this contraption wrapping my head, I’d join you. It was those damn things put me here, but hell, I’m ninety-three, light ‘em if you got ‘em.
Sharon smiled and put the pack back in her STIA handbag.
“Where was I? Oh yes, Luxemburg. I took a bit of shrapnel in the back of my head; nothing serious, just banged me around. In a month I was good, real good. The war was over, we were going home, and all I could think of was Merkers. Now that Gillis and Graham were dead, it was mine, all mine. Got a two-week pass to Paris and spent the time taking care of a few things. Found an apartment that had a garage under it, it was in the 7th Arrondissement. I stocked up on some canned goods and bought civilian clothing. The apartment was furnished; the original tenant was killed during the war. The landlord didn’t ask any questions, American dollars were better than gold, and I spoke only French, the owner never knew who I was. While civil on the outside, Paris seethed with the need for vengeance and retribution. Bodies were found most mornings in alleys and parks, Parisians held little respect for collaborators and scores had to be settled.”
“Baghdad wasn’t any different. Waves of terror washed back and forth across the Tigris, first one side, the Shiites, and then the Sunni. And when the Al Qaida pushed themselves into the country with their suicide vests, everyone suffered. I lost good men in those days.”
“That’s why I need you on this operation, Sharon. You understand me more than most,” Dumont said, he pursed his lips in a sad smile. “Well, I made it back to Luxemburg and rejoined my outfit, hung around waiting for whatever would come and a fortunate accident happened. I was working with a squad clearing munitions from a bunker back near Metz, a fuse caught and we scattered and waited for the explosion, when it happened, the whole side of the hill opened up, must’a been tunnels full of explosives. I was thrown into a wall and covered with debris, out like a light. When I woke up, it was night. The concussion knocked me out but that was all. I took the opportunity, slid down the hill, worked my way from the carnage, and disappeared. Three days later, I was driving the SS truck through Germany toward France; I loaded a lot of worthless stuff in the back, covering the thirteen boxes and the paintings. I looked like every other refugee, but I had money, and it made getting fuel and food easier. No one stopped me for more than a moment and then only for a cursory check. I had the look of a refugee and the papers I acquired in Paris were as authentic as I could buy, my French heritage helped. It was here, Sharon my dear, as I crossed into France, that Robert Alan Dupont died and Alain Dumont was born.”
“What?” Sharon cried. “What did you say?”