by Eric Rutter
AHMM December 2011
“What’s going to happen to your father?” Sylvie asked.
Henri looked up from his dinner, surprised. “What?”
“I said, what’s going to happen to your father?”
Henri stared at her blankly for a moment. Finally he said, “I don’t know.”
Sylvie looked back down to her plate. Henri looked at his, quietly annoyed. Sylvie knew he didn’t like to talk about his father. Why would she bring him up, just like that? He wondered if he’d upset her somehow and she was trying to pick a fight.
He realized the truth after dinner, when he went into the parlor and saw the newspaper sitting beside her chair. Its headline read: hitler’s star comes home.
His eyes switched to the picture embedded in the article. It showed his father posing for the camera, looking every bit the movie star with his perfect smile and well-styled mane of silver hair. The photo had obviously been taken during the war; he stood beside a uniformed German officer who had a mass of decorations on his chest. Henri’s father wore a tailored suit—and a monocle.
Henri read the first paragraph:
Collaborator and film star Jean-Pascal Lecourt recently returned from Switzerland to his luxury apartment at 214 Rue de Chezy, Neuilly. Calls for his arrest immediately went up from patriots all over the city. Officials at the Court of Justice had no comment when asked if a case was being prepared against M. Lecourt, who at press time remained at liberty, an affront to every Parisian who remained faithful to France during the war.
Sylvie’s voice broke in on Henri’s concentration: “How much trouble is he in?”
She was standing in the kitchen doorway. Henri watched her read the look on his face.
She said, “You hadn’t seen it before.”
“No,” Henri admitted.
“Will they arrest him?”
“Maybe. Better if they do, probably. This paper printed his address.”
“You don’t think someone would try to . . . ?”
Henri shrugged. “Others have been killed. Mostly right after Liberation, but a few since then. Anytime someone really big looks like they’re going to get off, or if the public feels we aren’t moving fast enough to prosecute them, there’s a risk they’ll take things into their own hands.”
He glanced at the date on the newspaper. It was today’s: 18 June 1945. He considered the paper as a whole, then. It was a single sheet, like so many of the dailies being printed now. Its political overtones were typical too. Ex-resistants dominated the newspaper industry these days, just as they dominated every other industry; they were the preferred replacements for collaborators ousted from their jobs as part of the purge. Thus the reporting in basically every French newspaper had a political bent. The rhetoric in this one was so overheated, Henri thought it might be a Communist rag.
Sylvie hadn’t moved from the doorway. She seemed to be waiting for him to say more.
He said, “He’ll probably be all right. There are plenty of others the public can vent its wrath on.”
“It seems like there’s more wrath now than before.”
He didn’t answer—because she was right. With the fall of Germany last month, reams of Nazi records had come unsealed. Details of the Germans’ abuses were coming out, stoking public outrage. At the same time, French collaborators who had fled to Germany were now trickling back to France. Not all of them were managing to sneak into the country disguised as freed prisoners of war.
Last Henri had heard, his father was living in Switzerland. He’d been touring somewhere outside of France, with a theater company or something, when the war ended. There’d been no request for extradition, so far as Henri knew. That would require formal charges, which to his knowledge hadn’t been filed. He certainly hadn’t filed any, and if one of the other prosecutors had, he was sure he would have heard about it. Up till now they’d had bigger fish to fry. They still did. Jean-Pascal Lecourt might be the most famous alleged collaborator currently in the news, but no one believed he was a driving force behind the Occupation.
Of course, the public might not care about that.
Sylvie said, “Do you really think he’d be safer in jail?”
“Maybe. If he didn’t do any serious collaborating.”
“Do you think he did?”
“No. His movies weren’t really propaganda, they were just financed by a German company, Continental Films. His working with them doesn’t mean much. He probably didn’t have much choice. I don’t imagine there were a lot of other companies financing movies during the war.”
“Why do you think he came back now? Did the Swiss make him leave?”
“I doubt it. I’m sure he just thinks no one will dare lay a hand on him. The arrogant son of a bitch.”
The silence from Sylvie was heavy. Henri turned his back to her, hoping she’d let the matter drop.
But she said, “I know you two don’t get along, that he treated you badly when you were a boy, but you never said how he mistreated you, exactly. What he did.”
“It’s hard to explain.”
“Can you try?”
Henri turned to face her. “What does it matter?”
“His life might be in jeopardy. And you might be able to save it.”
Henri tossed the paper onto her chair. “He doesn’t need my help. Even if he did he wouldn’t want it.”
Sylvie went back into the kitchen, to Henri’s relief.
But her questions got him to thinking. He’d planned on reading a certain book tonight, but now he was too distracted to focus on it. He toyed with the idea of going to bed early—he was tired enough, what with the long hours he was putting in at work—but he guessed he’d be too distracted to sleep too. So he just puttered around the apartment, staring out the windows, still able to appreciate the novelty of being able to do so, not having to worry about being hit by stray bullets. That had been a real concern during the last few weeks of the Occupation.
While Sylvie was getting dressed for bed, he found himself in the parlor again, looking down at the newspaper. He considered it for a moment. Then he picked it up and read the article about his father in its entirety.
Half an hour later he was in bed. As he’d predicted, he didn’t feel the least bit drowsy. The photo from the paper filled his mind’s eye. That image of his father trying on the German’s monocle evoked a childhood memory. It had been a day when Henri was quite young that his father took him along while he went out to run some errands. At first his father was cool and distant, but when they arrived at the haberdasher’s shop a photographer caught up with them, and suddenly his father’s demeanor changed. He became warm and friendly. He smiled and joked with Henri, letting him try on hats that were ten sizes too big. The photographer snapped away, grinning. Afterwards, outside the shop, the photographer went in one direction, and Henri’s father took him in the other. Henri chattered to him all the way home, but his father barely responded. He had turned distant again.
Sylvie spoke in the darkness beside him: “Family problems are one thing. Bad blood. But this is different. Your father’s life is at stake.”
Henri didn’t reply. Darkly he thought Sylvie wouldn’t be so concerned for his father if she knew how he spoke about her behind her back. Henri hadn’t seen his father in over a year and the last time they were together, they quarreled. His father had called Sylvie a fat toad.
Henri listened to Sylvie breathing. She fell asleep before he did.
When he finally slept, he dreamt that an angry mob broke into his parents’ apartment, dragged them both out into the street, and beat them to death. He awoke with a start. He realized then that he hadn’t considered how his mother would fare in all this. He tried to recall any cases of a woman being murdered along with her collaborator husband. None came to mind but still, it seemed silly to believe that people who broke down his parents’ door would spare anyone they found inside.
His father probably would be safer in jail, he thought. He’d made the remark to Sylvie offhandedly but there was real truth to it.
He made up his mind. Tomorrow morning he was going to issue a warrant for his father’s arrest.
His father was arrested at ten minutes past eleven on the morning of June twentieth. He knew because his mother called him at work five minutes later.
“How could you?” she asked breathlessly. “I know you two don’t get along, but to do something like this!”
“It’s for the best, Mama,” Henri said, stammering a little. He hadn’t expected her to know he was behind the arrest. He wondered if one of the policemen who came for his father had told her or if she’d read his name on the warrant.
“How can it be for the best?” she cried. “They took him off to jail! They’re going to kill him!”
“No one’s going to kill him.”
“They killed Georges Suarez! And Robert Brasillach! They were hauled off in chains just like your father, and they wound up in front of firing squads!”
“They were newspaper men.”
“I don’t see what difference—”
“They were hard-core collaborators, Ma, and it was easy to prove because of all the things they wrote promoting fascism and the Nazi agenda. Father’s just an actor who appeared in some German films.”
“The papers are saying he should be executed too.”
“The papers won’t try him, we will. If he stands trial at all. He probably won’t. I didn’t charge him with anything, and I don’t plan to.”
“But still, you had him arrested. How could you?”
“Would you calm down, please?”
He spent a full twenty minutes on the phone trying to reassure her. When the call ended she wasn’t hysterical anymore but clearly she still didn’t understand what he’d done or why he’d done it. Worse, listening to her vent all her worries left him wondering if he’d made a mistake.
He had planned on letting his father sit in detention until the newspapers forgot about him, but if his superiors took an interest in the case they might bring charges themselves. And the Court was influenced by public opinion, despite what he’d told his mother. Lately he’d seen arrests made based on flimsy accusations. The holding cells downstairs hadn’t been this crowded since right after Liberation.
He remembered those first dark weeks vividly, the feeling of terror that everyone seemed to share. Well, he supposed the resistants didn’t share it. They were the ones roaming the city, rounding up collaborators. Actually the situation in Paris was better than elsewhere in the country. Accused collaborators arrested here had to wait for the Court of Justice to be established before they could be tried. Everywhere else resistants set up courts-martial staffed with judges and prosecutors taken from their own ranks. The courts-martial weren’t exactly legal but they were an improvement over the summary executions that were carried out during the first few days after Liberation. To date no one knew for sure how many accused collaborators had been executed then. There was no way to distinguish them from the war dead.
The Court of Justice at least was a real court, backed by the legitimacy of the provisional government. But in its first weeks it handed down sentences that were as harsh as any court-martial’s. Some women who committed no greater offense than taking a German lover received prison terms. Two months later ‘horizontal collaborators,’ as such women were called, weren’t tried at all unless they had denounced someone or otherwise done real harm. Henri didn’t like to consider what that early court would have done with someone like his father.
Fortunately, he didn’t have time to dwell on it. He was trying a case this afternoon. Reluctantly, with a last guilty glance at the phone, he turned his attention back to the file lying open on his desk.
At two o’clock he went to court. The trial only took an hour. It was a case against a grocer accused of collaboration and profiteering. The court heard the usual testimony. The grocer claimed he was coerced, that the Germans threatened to send his teenage sons to a labor camp unless he sold them produce. Other witnesses testified that the grocer sought out business opportunities with the Germans, that he gouged the few French customers he sold to, and that he made disparaging comments about Jews. He was found guilty. His sentence was five years’ hard labor, confiscation of all profits made from dealing with the Germans, and indignité nationale. The last was a newly invented term. It was both a crime and a sentence. As the latter it stripped convicted criminals of all their civil rights. They became ineligible to vote, hold public office or work in certain professions. They might also be forced to move out of Paris, permanently.
After the trial Henri went back to his office, reminded once again of how much like court-martial proceedings Court of Justice trials were: brisk, straightforward, and focused on meting out punishment; they were not a forum for debating the finer points of law. He had two more trials scheduled for tomorrow. He spent the rest of the afternoon preparing for them.
As he was packing up his briefcase at the end of the day, he remembered his father. All day he had deliberately avoided asking any of his colleagues about him, but he couldn’t bear the thought of going home knowing only what he knew now. So on his way out he stopped by the office of another prosecutor, Claude Badeaux.
“Do me a favor,” he asked Claude. “Keep an eye on my father. If he gets indicted or released, let me know.”
Claude gave him an uncomfortable look. “Um, he was already indicted.”
Henri’s jaw dropped. “What? How? . . . When?”
“About an hour ago.”
“They indicted him in six hours? We have people we’ve been holding without indictment for a month! Two months!”
“What did they indict him for?”
“I shouldn’t be talking to you about this.”
“What did they indict him for?”
“Indignité nationale. For now.”
“Who’s the prosecutor?”
“I can’t tell you that. I shouldn’t have told you this much. A memo came around telling us not to discuss the case with you.”
Henri collected himself. “All right,” he said. “Thanks.”
He left Claude’s office, his mind awhirl. He wondered if the higher-ups were just looking to make an example of his father or if they had real evidence against him. Now that he thought about it, he didn’t really know for sure that his father’s recent films weren’t German propaganda. He’d been told so and never had reason to doubt it, but he hadn’t seen them for himself. In fact, he hadn’t seen any of his father’s work in years.
Worry roiled in his stomach as he walked through the Palais de Justice’s front doors. Father could be in real trouble, he thought. Because of me.
He hesitated, torn. Then he turned around and went back inside.
At the clerk’s office he checked the arrests list. His father was in one of the holding cells downstairs. He hadn’t been moved to the Depot yet.
Henri left the clerk’s office without talking to anyone and went down to the cellblock. He waited until he found a guard he didn’t recognize. He showed the man his badge and said, “I need you to bring a prisoner to one of the interrogation rooms.”
“Yes, sir,” the guard said.
They went down to the cells. As they entered the cellblock Henri noticed a guard in the corridor ahead, loitering between two cells. The next moment he heard his father’s voice coming from that same direction.
“She’s very much like she seems on stage,” his father was saying. “Poised, attentive. And beautiful, of course. She was twenty-one years old when she played Juliet opposite me. She was so beautiful I had trouble remembering my lines. I’d look at her and they’d just fly right out of my head.”
The guard straightened up at Henri’s approach, betraying the fact that he had been eavesdropping. Henri walked past him and gazed through the bars of the cell door. His father sat on one of the benches inside, casually leaning back against the concrete wall, surrounded by five other prisoners who sat listening to him raptly. The prisoners were so captivated only a couple of them glanced at Henri. His father did after another moment. His expression hardened into a mask.
Henri turned to the guard, pointed at his father, and said, “Him.”
No one said a word as the cell door was unlocked and Henri’s father was taken out. The guard handcuffed him, then led him up the corridor. Henri followed. He avoided the other guard’s gaze, just as the guard had avoided his a moment ago. Henri knew the man vaguely; he was a longtime staff member, not an ex-resistant brought in recently to fill a collaborator’s position. With any luck the guard wouldn’t report what was going on here, for fear Henri would report him for hovering outside his father’s cell like an autograph-seeker.
Henri followed his father and their escort to a windowless interrogation room one floor up. As his father stepped into the small room, Henri said to the guard, “Thank you. Would you wait down the corridor, please?”
The guard nodded and withdrew.
Henri entered the room, closed the door behind him and turned to face his father. The expression on his father’s face remained wooden. He made no move to sit in either of the chairs at the table in the center of the room. He simply stood there with his bound hands clasped before him.
Henri said, “What do they have on you?”
His father exhaled a slight, bitter laugh. “That’s the first thing you say? Not, ‘I’m sorry?’ Not, ‘Hello?’ Not, ‘Did they mistreat you?’”
“I know what mistreated prisoners look like.”
“I’ll bet you do.”
“They’re going to put you on trial. Did you know that? It’s been decided.”
His father frowned a little. Evidently he hadn’t.
He said, “What crime am I supposed to have committed?”
“Indignité nationale. Do you know what that is?”
He shook his head slightly.
Henri said, “Back when the Free French forces were planning for the purge, back before France was even liberated, they realized there would be a lot of collaborators who hadn’t done anything that qualified as treason or collusion with the enemy, so they created a new crime: indignité nationale. It basically applies to anyone who worked too closely with the Germans in any way.”
His father’s frown turned into a scowl. “My God. I knew this was a crooked game but . . . So how do I prove I didn’t work too closely with the Germans? It can’t be done, can it?”
“Don’t tell me to calm down! This is a witch hunt! You think I don’t know what’s going on just because I was out of the country? I saw what was happening here. The purge is just people settling scores. Taking revenge, that’s all. To the victor go the spoils and their enemies wind up in chains!” He shook his manacled wrists at Henri.
“I want to help you.”
His father went on as if he didn’t hear him. “Your Court of Justice is as crooked as anything the Germans set up, you know that?” He began to pace back and forth. “It’s nothing but ex-Resistance men rounding up their enemies. Resistance work is the only qualification you need to work for the courts now, or any other branch of government. The trouble is, half your resistants didn’t start resisting until after the Occupation!”
“I want to help you.”
“Like hell! You had me arrested!”
“For your own good. And Mama’s.”
“Bullshit. Don’t give me that. You always hated me. You always resented me. Now you have your chance to show me up!”
Henri stared at him, shocked. He opened his mouth to deny the accusation but couldn’t find the words.
He dropped his father’s gaze. The fact was he had never found it easy standing up to his father. The man’s presence was a palpable force. Even now he seemed too big for the room, towering on the other side of the table.
“You’re after a promotion,” his father said. “Or political office! That’s it, isn’t it? You want to make your career off me and I won’t let you!”
The rising wave of emotion inside Henri crested. As his father raged on, pacing back and forth like a caged tiger, Henri raised his briefcase over his head and slammed it down on the table.
His father jumped and quieted.
Henri bellowed, “Where do you think you are? On stage? I’m not an audience! You’re in jail and I’m trying to save your life!”
The look of righteous indignation on his father’s face slowly faded.
Henri said, “If they find you guilty of treason they’re going to execute you. And with the mood everyone’s in right now that’s a real possibility. If your films are propaganda they’ll show them to the court and that’ll be it, you’ll be convicted. Understand?”
“They aren’t propaganda.”
Henri couldn’t help but derive a measure of satisfaction from his father’s change in tone. It wasn’t meek, exactly—his father wasn’t capable of meekness—but it was subdued.
He asked, “Can they be interpreted as propaganda?”
“No, I don’t think so,” his father said. “They’re just stories, regular films.”
“Did you do anything else? Denounce anyone? Make any pro-fascist statements?”
“You better be sure about that. You better think about everything you ever said to anyone. When I had you picked up I thought you were innocent but I’ve had time to think about it now. I can remember you making some comments when I was young, disparaging remarks about the Jews financing your plays.”
“Those were just jokes.”
“Jokes like that get people killed nowadays.”
His father scowled again. “I told you, this is a witch hunt. I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“No, you just starred in German films, and did tours of Germany, and had your picture taken with a German general—wearing a goddamn monocle, for Christ’s sake!”
His father didn’t reply.
Henri took a deep breath. He leaned on the back of the chair in front of him and said, “If you did anything to help the Resistance this could all go away. Did you make any donations to one of the movements? Or let a dissident stay at your house, even for one night? Anything like that?”
His father dropped his gaze. It settled on his handcuffs.
“Well,” Henri said. “The main thing you have to worry about is the charge about your films. The court takes propaganda very seriously. Some writers have been sentenced to death, along with some spokesmen for the Germans and the Vichy regime.”
His father met his gaze but said nothing.
Henri picked up his briefcase. “They’ll send you to the Depot next, on Quai de l’Horlage. You probably won’t be there for long. Drancy is where detainees are kept long-term.”
He saw a cloud pass over his father’s face, and he thought he knew why. The housing complex at Drancy was where the Germans had kept their detainees before shipping them off to the camps. Now the liberated French were doing it. But his father didn’t say anything.
Henri said, “I’ll do everything I can for you. But you’d better get yourself a good lawyer.”
Having indicted him, the court was in no hurry to bring Henri’s father to trial. Twenty-six days later he was still sitting in Drancy. Before the end of the first week the indictment had been amended to include collusion with the enemy. It could have been worse, Henri told himself. Treason was the most serious charge. But collusion with the enemy was almost as bad—and it was almost impossible to refute. To be convicted, the accused need only be shown to have acted willingly against the interests of France. It didn’t matter if they had been ordered to do so. Frenchmen who had claimed they were just following orders had been convicted when they failed to prove they tried not to carry out their orders.
Henri thought of his father every day, and he would have even if it weren’t for his mother, who called at least three times a week. He reassured her every time as best he could, telling her that the stories of prisoner abuse which had come out of Drancy dated mainly from the first weeks after Liberation. He told her how he’d seen the other prisoners in the holding cell mooning over his father, and the guard too. Even in detention he’d be treated like a star.
But secretly Henri worried. Although he’d been told next to nothing about the case—nearly everything he’d learned had come directly from his boss, Arnaud Varon, who would be prosecuting the case personally—it was clear the higher-ups intended to make an example of his father. Over a dozen witnesses were slated to testify for the prosecution. Some of them were prepared to say they’d seen Jean-Pascal Lecourt fraternizing with Germans and expressing support for their war effort. As to whether his films constituted propaganda, the debate was already raging. Every day there was an article on the subject in at least one newspaper.
And it seemed as if every article also mentioned that Henri was the one who had ordered his father’s arrest. When he mentioned that fact to Claude, he got another one of those looks that said Claude knew something.
“What?” Henri said. “Tell me.”
“They leaked it on purpose,” Claude said reluctantly.
“Jesus Christ. Why?”
“They think it makes us look good. You know how some people are always complaining we’re biased, that we let our friends and family off the hook. This proves it isn’t true. Or at least that’s what Administration thinks.”
Henri grimaced. He could see the logic.
Claude added, “I feel bad for you. My Uncle Thibault stood trial. I know how it feels.”
Henri could only nod. He remembered Thibault’s case. The man had been convicted and sent to prison.
The weeks slowly passed. Henri fretted when he wasn’t absorbed in case-work, which was most of the time.
On one stiflingly hot day in July he was at his desk, bent over yet another case file, when he heard someone knock on his open office door.
“Monsieur Lecourt?” the woman standing there said.
Henri recognized her instantly. She was an actress almost as famous as his father.
He stood up, unconsciously smoothing the wrinkles out of his tie with one hand. “Yes?”
“I’m sorry to disturb you. My name is Nicole St. Amand.”
“Yes, of course. Please come in.”
“I wondered if I might have a minute of your time?”
“Please. Yes. Sit down.”
Mademoiselle St. Amand sat in the chair beside Henri’s desk. Henri sat in his, not quite able to quash the impulse to pat his hair down—what little of it he had left. Mlle. St. Amand was dazzlingly beautiful, like so many of his father’s costars. She was no older than thirty, at least twenty years his father’s junior, although that hadn’t stopped the gossip columnists from saying she was his lover while they were working together. Again, like so many of his costars.
She said, “I wanted to talk to you about your father.”
“Yes. I should warn you I’m not assigned to the case.”
“How is he?”
“Fine, last I heard.”
“Has a trial date been set?”
“They’re talking about next week.”
Mlle. St. Amand toyed with the lace trim on the hat she held in her lap. “I’m worried for him.”
“You needn’t be.”
When she glanced up, Henri felt the force of her gaze. It was almost as powerful as his father’s. “I’m not sure that’s true. I came back to Paris before he did. I was here to see the worst of it.”
“Things will never get that bad again.”
“No. Not now that the Provisional Government is set up.”
“I saw the women whose heads were shaved. Some had swastikas painted on them. They were marched through the street. People cursed and spat on them.”
“That was before the Provisional Government.”
“But wasn’t it government policy? I heard stories of the same thing happening to women all over France.”
“It did but it was spontaneous. It seems to be something that happens anytime an occupation ends. The enemy soldiers leave and the women who slept with them get sheared.”
Mlle. St. Amand dropped her gaze to her hat again. To Henri she looked alluringly vulnerable.
She said, “I spent quite some time with Jean-Pascal during the war. I can tell you he’s no collaborator.”
“I’m sure the Court would be happy to hear your testimony.”
“Does it need to go that far? A lot of people have the charges against them dropped.”
“I don’t have the power—”
“Do you have the desire? Would you drop the charges if you could?”
“I don’t know. I’d have to examine the evidence.”
“I promise you there can’t be any real evidence against him.”
Henri could feel sweat prickling his brow. He adjusted his tie again. Now that Mlle. St. Amand was looking at him directly, her gaze seemed to warm him.
For lack of anything better to say, he asked, “Which productions were the two of you in most recently?”
“We did a film together in ’42. It was called Sweet Spring. And we did two plays in late ’43 and early ’44. We took them to Alsace and Lorraine and a few towns in Germany.”
The heat and Mlle. St. Amand’s beauty were putting Henri in a sort of daze. But his head cleared with her last statement. “The two of you toured Germany together?”
“Prisoner of war camps?”
“One camp, yes.”
Henri choose his next words carefully. “Mademoiselle—”
“Call me Nicole.”
“Nicole, I’m sorry to tell you this but you might be in for an investigation yourself.”
“I was already questioned by the police. They assured me I won’t face charges.”
“Oh. Well. Good.”
Henri wondered how she’d managed that. People were interrogated and released all the time, but they were rarely promised they wouldn’t be charged.
Nicole said, “What can I do for Jean-Pascal?”
“You can go to the prosecutor. His name is Arnaud Varon. Tell him you want to testify on my father’s behalf.”
“What would I say?”
“I meant what would convince everyone he’s innocent?”
“Well, if the Germans told him to do some things and he refused, that would be good. And if he worked with the Resistance at all, he’s almost sure to be acquitted. But I don’t think he did.”
“You were with the Resistance, weren’t you? You must have been to be working here now.”
“I helped a little.”
“Me too. What did you do?”
“Gave donations, mostly. A few francs here and there. I also wrote some articles that were published in Combat, the Resistance newspaper. Anonymously, of course.”
“Now you’re in the papers again—and not anonymously.”
“That wasn’t what I wanted. I had my father arrested because I was afraid he might get lynched. I wasn’t trying to make a name for myself.”
“I’m sure that’s true. Yet a moment ago you said things could never get as bad as they were at Liberation. They would have to get that bad or worse for someone to be lynched, wouldn’t they?”
Henri couldn’t bring himself to deny it. A couple of high-ranking collaborators had been lynched in the last six months. It wasn’t something he or any of his colleagues liked to talk about.
Nicole said, “Jean-Pascal was famous before you were born, wasn’t he?”
“Not as famous as he is now. His work these last few years really helped his career.”
“No doubt. There wasn’t much competition with Continental’s films. That’s why Jean-Pascal agreed to work for them. It’s why I did too.”
Henri gestured vaguely, acknowledging the statement if not actually agreeing with it.
Nicole said, “I don’t have any children myself but most of the actors I work with do. I see what it’s like, how hard it is for the children. They’re always vying for their parents’ attention. They’re competing against the whole world for it.”
“Mademoiselle—Nicole—if you think I had my father arrested to try to get him to notice me—”
“Then you must think it was some sort of vendetta. That’s what you think, isn’t it? It’s what the papers say. They believe this is some sort of family drama playing itself out in the courts. Let me assure you it’s not. And the suggestion is deeply insulting.”
“Of course it is. Only a perfect scoundrel would deliberately send his own father to prison on trumped-up charges. But what if it wasn’t deliberate? Have you studied Freud? We all have subconscious thoughts. You wouldn’t need to be a scoundrel for resentments from your childhood to be at work here.”
Henri didn’t know what to say. The Freud reference disconcerted him, largely because in the time since Nicole had come into his office he’d had more than one sexual thought about her. Her mention of Freud made him think of the Oedipus complex, a revolting idea which nevertheless had an obvious application here.
Nicole said, “We all have dark impulses. We’re only human.”
Henri thought he saw the ghost of a smile on her lips. He decided he was imagining things.
“Jean-Pascal is a great man,” Nicole added. “I’d do anything for him.”
This time Henri was sure he saw something in her eyes, something subtle—an invitation.
She said, “You could help him. If you really wanted to.”
Understanding dawned on Henri. Slowly he said, “Yes, I might be able to.”
Nicole smiled openly then, warmly. “You have an idea?”
“Well . . . Yes. Something just came to me.”
“Tell me what it is.”
Henri stood up. “Let me close the door first.”
Henri’s father stood trial on July twenty-fifth. Henri had two cases that day, and he knew it was no coincidence. M. Varon had made it clear he wanted him to stay away from his father’s trial. But Henri was sure even two cases wouldn’t last as long as the one against his father. Jean-Pascal Lecourt was the most famous defendant to stand trial in quite some time.
Sure enough, his father’s case was still being heard when Henri’s first case ended before lunch. He went into court for the second one at one o’clock, prepared to ask for a continuance if Claude should appear in the courtroom and give him a certain signal. But Henri had his verdict by two thirty with no sign of Claude.
He went back to his office and spent a restless forty-five minutes staring blindly at the interrogation report from his next case. Then, finally, Claude came in.
“Well?” Henri said as soon as Claude pushed the door closed behind him.
Henri stood up. “How soon will she be called?”
“I don’t know. M. Varon just started cross-examining the witness before her. It’s taking everyone a long time to testify. Enjoying their moment in the spotlight, I guess.”
“Yes. The place is packed.”
“How’s my father doing?”
“He looks fine. To look at him you’d never know he’s on trial. You might think he was waiting his turn in the barber’s chair.”
“I meant was any really damning evidence presented against him.”
“Oh. Not really. Nothing concrete. Just the fact that he worked with the Germans and seemed to enjoy being around them, and the films he made all had some themes that . . . well, they’re open to interpretation.”
“All right.” Henri headed for the door.
Claude followed him down the corridor. “He didn’t lose his composure, not even when the worst things were being said about him. He only came close when he was on the stand this morning. M. Varon pressed him pretty hard and he pressed back. There were some real fireworks. He gave a sort of speech at one point, and you could have heard a pin drop.”
“He’s good at making speeches.”
“This one was about how he has nothing to prove. He says there’s no evidence against him, just scurrilous attacks on his character, which he won’t dignify by answering. M. Varon asked him if he’d intended to make propaganda films for the Germans or if he ever said anything in support of their agenda, and your father said no, but it took him ten minutes to say it. The gist of his testimony was that anything he said which might have made the Germans think he supported them was just dissembling, so he could get along with them while they were financing his plays and movies.”
“We’d better split up here.”
Claude turned the next corner and headed for the public corridors. Henri continued down the one he was in.
It brought him to the side door of his father’s courtroom, the door the bailiffs used. As Henri reached for the doorknob, he was keenly aware that he was about to make his big entrance.
He opened the door and stepped through. An older man he recognized as his father’s valet was on the stand, giving an answer to M. Varon, who stood opposite him.
“I really don’t know,” the valet said. His name was Eugène. “The dinner may have been M. Lecourt’s idea, or it may have been Colonel Reinhard’s.”
“Did M. Lecourt invite Col. Reinhard to dinner on any other occasion?” Varon asked.
“I don’t know.”
“But Col. Reinhard did dine with him sometimes?”
“Did M. Lecourt ever invite other German officers to dine with him, or to join him at other social functions?”
“I don’t know.”
Varon paused in his questioning to look back at the gallery, which was now quietly abuzz. Henri’s appearance had caused a stir, as he knew it would. He’d carefully done nothing to draw attention to himself, only eased the door shut behind him and moved to stand beside it, his back to the wall. Now he glanced at the gallery for the first time. Gazes were settling on him as people recognized him—from pictures in the newspapers, doubtlessly. He deliberately didn’t look at Varon but he did look at his father.
There he was, seated casually at the defendant’s table, just like Claude had said. Even in that pose, staring idly at nothing, he had a commanding presence that reminded Henri why the critics sometimes called him the Lion of the French Cinema. In profile he was undeniably handsome. He was well past fifty years old yet he was still a sex symbol. Henri watched the noise from the gallery penetrate his father’s reverie. The well-groomed head turned then and their eyes met. His father’s face registered anger, just for an instant. Then it smoothed back into a cultured, emotionless mask.
Henri looked back toward the witness stand and caught Varon’s eye, who was scowling at him. The judge rapped his gavel, quieting the gallery. Varon turned back to Eugène.
“Sir, is it not true that M. Lecourt was allowed to drive his car in Paris during the Occupation?”
“Yes,” Eugène said.
“The only French citizens who were allowed that privilege were entrepreneurs who needed their vehicles for their businesses and favorites of the Germans. Was M. Lecourt an entrepreneur?”
Varon nodded, letting the implications hang in the air. Then he addressed the bench: “Your Honor, I have no further questions for this witness.”
The judge said to Eugène, “You are excused.” Then he spoke to the lawyer sitting beside Henri’s father. “Call your next witness, M. Tessier.”
Tessier stood up. “I call Nicole St. Amand.”
Another murmur rippled through the gallery. Henri had just spotted her. She was seated in one of the front rows, dressed conservatively in a blue dress with long sleeves and a high neckline. She had her hair bound up in a net of pearls. She looked refined and utterly beautiful. She didn’t glance at Henri’s father as she rose and walked to the witness stand, but her face was as composed as his. She didn’t glance at Henri either, thank God.
She took the oath and sat down. Tessier said, “What is your profession, Mlle. St. Amand?”
“I’m an actress.”
“Have you appeared in any films or plays with M. Lecourt since the war began?”
“Yes. One film and two plays.”
“What were the plays?”
“The Miracle and King’s Company.”
“Those would be the productions financed by Bonnet-Girard?”
“Bonnet-Girard is a German-owned company.”
“You and the defendant toured Germany performing those two plays, didn’t you?”
“Whose idea was it to take those shows to Germany?”
“The Germans’. The bosses’ at Bonnet-Girard.”
“Not M. Lecourt’s?”
“Did you ever hear M. Lecourt express eagerness to take the shows to Germany?”
Henri thought he heard a gasp or two from the gallery, but Tessier didn’t so much as twitch. Of course he didn’t—no lawyer worth his salt asked his own witness a question without knowing what the answer would be.
Tessier said, “What did M. Lecourt say, exactly?”
“He said he was looking forward to performing there. But what he meant was he was looking forward to performing for the Frenchmen in the prisoner of war camp at Ziegenhain, not the German audiences.”
“How do you know that’s what he meant?”
“Because he told me so. He liked to mislead the Germans by telling them the literal truth. It was a sort of game to him.”
“Was there a special reason why he was looking forward to performing in Ziegenhain?”
“Yes. We had a plan to help the prisoners there escape.”
Louder murmurs erupted from the gallery. The judge rapped his gavel.
Tessier said to Nicole, “Could you describe this plan?”
“We were scheduled to put on The Miracle in September of 1943, and then go back in January of ’44 to do King’s Company. So while we were there in September, we planned on having our pictures taken with as many of the prisoners as we could. Once we got back to Paris we’d have the photos turned into false identity papers. Then we’d take the papers back with us in January, hidden in the false bottom of one of my suitcases.”
“And did you carry out this plan?”
“Yes, we did.”
“How many sets of false identity papers did you deliver to the prisoners at Ziegenhain in January, 1944?”
“And the Germans never found out?”
“Apparently not. They never confronted me about it.”
“If they had confronted you—if you and M. Lecourt had been caught, what punishment would you have faced?”
“We surely would have been executed.”
Tessier paused to let that sink in.
When he resumed questioning, he had Nicole rebut some of the claims that had been made by witnesses for the prosecution. Nicole portrayed Henri’s father as a loyal Frenchman who had agreed to appear in Continental’s films and Bonnet-Girard’s productions only because they offered him generous contracts. She expressed doubt that he even realized Continental was owned by Germans. Certainly he never dreamed that by working with them he would be dealing with German army officers and government officials. When he discovered he would, he dealt with them only because refusing to do so would have gotten him imprisoned or shot. But he would have refused, Nicole said, if they’d ever asked him to appear in a propaganda film. She swore to that.
She testified for almost half an hour. Throughout that time she remained poised and quietly confident. When Tessier was finished with her, Varon practically leapt out of his chair.
“Mlle. St. Amand, do you have any proof to back up your claim that you and M. Lecourt worked for the Resistance?”
“You could ask the police. I told them about it when I came back to Paris last summer. They were satisfied I was telling the truth.”
“What proof did you give them?”
“I gave them the name of my contact, a woman I knew as Paulette but whose real name is Corinne Rousseau. And I gave them the name of the photographer who took the pictures at Ziegenhain. Martin Heroux.”
“I see. Did you tell the police about M. Lecourt’s involvement in this operation?”
“Yes, I did.”
“What exactly did you say about him?”
“That we traveled to the camps together. That we were starring together in the plays.”
“Then you didn’t say he was involved in the plot?”
“Not explicitly, no.”
“Really? Isn’t that an important detail? I should think it would be the first thing you’d mention. You and one of France’s most famous actors were on a secret mission for the Resistance. I should think you would have mentioned his name.”
“I don’t think of Jean-Pascal as a celebrity, I think of him as a friend.”
“Really, Mademoiselle, do you expect us to believe M. Lecourt was involved in this mission—of which you have no concrete evidence—and you just happened to forget to mention it when you spoke with the police?”
“I wasn’t in the habit of revealing the names of my coconspirators. That was actually the first time I’d talked about the mission with anyone outside the network.”
With unconcealed skepticism Varon asked, “Can anyone corroborate any part of your story?”
“She knew M. Lecourt was involved in the mission?”
“No, she knew about the mission but not Jean-Pascal’s role in it.”
“I never told her.”
“Again, Mademoiselle, why not?”
“Because that’s the way things were done in the Resistance. People in the same network didn’t know each other unless they needed to, so they couldn’t give each other away if they were caught and interrogated.”
Henri glanced at judge, then the gallery, gauging their reaction. It was true, the Resistance had worked that way. He wondered how many people knew it.
Varon reacted incredulously. “So no one can corroborate your testimony that M. Lecourt was involved? Is that what you’re saying?”
“I don’t know. Martin could have, but he was killed last year.”
Nicole regarded Varon coldly. “Martin was a brave man. He was a patriot. His death was not convenient.”
Varon paused to regroup. Henri imagined everyone in the courtroom could see he’d made a misstep with that last comment.
Varon said, “But again, Mademoiselle, to get back to the matter of proof.”
“I refer you to the police. They didn’t need any more proof than I’ve given you here.”
“You gave them proof as to the mission’s existence and your role in it. But as for proof of M. Lecourt’s involvement, the police and the members of this court have only your word.”
“I guess that’s true.”
Varon hesitated again, then he turned toward his seat. Disgustedly he said, “No further questions.”
There were some more murmurs from the gallery. A sort of current had gone through the room. Henri felt it.
He was sure everyone sensed Nicole’s testimony had helped his father. He could see it in the gazes settling on him again. Anyone who wanted an acquittal would now feel it was justified—provided Claude was right and the prosecution had presented no hard evidence.
While everyone was still looking at him, Henri turned and left the room.
Henri’s father was acquitted the next day. Henri got the news from Varon, along with a scolding for appearing in the courtroom like that and especially for leaving right after the most damaging testimony was given. Varon said leaving like he had made it seem like he thought the case was lost. Henri apologized, not really worried if Varon guessed he really had thought so. Everyone else thought so by then, according to the papers. Varon must have, himself.
A couple of days later Henri went to see his parents. The purpose of his trip put him in a thoughtful mood, so as he rode his bicycle across town he looked around him, considering how things had changed since the Occupation. The Nazi flags were gone, of course, along with the images of Marshal Pétain, the propaganda posters, and the signs written in German. But many of the buildings still showed war damage, their masonry cracked and gouged by Allied bombs. As he came into Neuilly the more ordinary homes and shops gave way to mansions. Neuilly was the richest neighborhood in Paris and thus the one a lot of Germans—and collaborators—had lived in during the Occupation.
He reached his parents’ building, a tall brownstone with a liveried doorman stationed outside. The doorman gave Henri a simple nod as he opened the door for him. In the lobby, the concierge showed Henri a somewhat brittle smile but didn’t try to stop him as he walked to the elevators. Henri rode up to his parents’ penthouse apartment, imagining the concierge calling up to warn them. Sure enough, when he knocked on their door a minute later it was his mother who answered it, not a servant.
“How have you been?” she asked with nervous good humor as she let him in.
“Fine. Where’s Father?”
“In the sitting room. I hope you won’t upset him. After what he’s been through . . .”
Henri had already turned away.
He found his father sitting at the piano, his back to the door. He was studying some sheet music he held in one hand. In his other hand he held a glass of brandy.
Henri’s mother came into the room behind him. She spoke before Henri could, with forced gaiety. “Jean-Pascal, Henri is here.”
Henri’s father sipped his drink but didn’t turn around.
Henri said bluntly, “All I want to know is, did you send her to me?”
His father turned to look at him. “What?”
“Did you send her to me?”
“Nicole St. Amand. Did you try to buy me off with her? One of your cast-off mistresses?”
His father’s gaze turned into a baleful glare.
Henri’s mother said, “Please, arguing won’t help—”
His father cut her off. “My God, you’ve got nerve.” He stood up slowly. “You tried to have me purged, now you come over here and throw accusations at me. You failed, do you understand? You tried to upstage me and you failed. This was your one chance. You must have been waiting for it your whole life. But you screwed it up and you’ll never get another one.”
Henri took a step forward, clenching his fists at his sides. “You arrogant bastard! Don’t you know theater when you see it? Do you think I didn’t know she was going to lie for you?”
His father spoke after the slightest hesitation. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Henri snorted derisively. “That’s the worst line-reading I’ve ever seen from you. But good, I don’t want you to admit the truth. I made sure Nicole didn’t, either. I gave her the idea of lying on the stand but I didn’t want her to come right out and tell me she was going to do it. I can’t suborn perjury.”
Henri’s mother said fearfully, “What do you mean, perjury?”
Henri looked at her. “Nicole St. Amand lied. Father wasn’t involved with her mission. She just said that to get him acquitted.”
Henri looked at his father as he continued. “She came to me and made it clear she’d be willing to sleep with me if I could get him off the hook. I’d already been thinking about how I could help him—I felt guilty for having him arrested. She gave me an idea when she said she’d worked for the Resistance. I hinted that if she could convince the judge Father worked with her, he was bound to be acquitted. But when I asked her what kind of work she did, I thought she’d say she made some donations or something. I was going to hint she testify Father gave her some money to pass along. But then she told me about her mission and that was it. It couldn’t have been more perfect. The way it was set up, she could say he helped her actively and no one could disprove it. There was even a dead accomplice she could say had known about Father’s involvement.”
His mother said worriedly, “Is he still in trouble?”
“No.” Henri glanced at her. “He probably wasn’t in serious trouble anyway. Not really. There wasn’t any hard evidence against him, just hearsay, and he’s too famous to get sent up on that. People like to see their idols brought low, but they wouldn’t have let him go to prison.” Contemptuously he added, “They love him too much.”
“Are you sure?”
“I made sure of it. Everyone thought the whole trial was my personal vendetta, so I showed up in the courtroom just as Nicole St. Amand was going to testify. When she dropped her bombshell and the tide turned, I walked out where everyone could see me do it. I made it look like the case was lost.”
His mother fell silent. His father was silent too.
To his father, Henri said, “It says something about Nicole, doesn’t it? She wanted to help you, but it never occurred to her to lie and say you were in on the mission. That would have been so much easier. But that’s not how her mind works. The first thing she thought of was trying to seduce me.”
“Get out,” his father said.
“You’re an ungrateful son of a bitch.”
“Get out. Now.”
Henri turned and walked out of the room.
As he approached the front door, his chest was filled with the same ugly cloud of emotions he always seemed to carry out of this apartment. But at the same time he felt lighter, like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.
Out in the corridor, he had just started down the stairs when the door opened again. His mother came out.
“Henri,” she said, moving to the railing.
Henri stopped. “What?”
“Please, you must understand. Your father’s a great man. It’s hard for him, a man with his talent, dealing with ordinary people like us . . .”
Henri scowled at her. “For God’s sake, Ma.”
He started down the steps again.
He paused once more and looked up at her.
“Thank you,” she said.
Henri just shook his head and left.