The Black Swan of Paris - Karen Robards
May 15, 1944
When the worst thing that could ever happen to you had already happened, nothing that came after really mattered. The resultant state of apathy was almost pleasant, as long as she didn’t allow herself to think about it—any of it—too much.
She was Genevieve Dumont, a singer, a star. Her latest sold-out performance at one of Paris’s great theaters had ended in a five-minute standing ovation less than an hour before. She was acclaimed, admired, celebrated wherever she went. The Nazis loved her.
She was not quite twenty-five years old. Beautiful when, like now, she was dolled up in all her after-show finery. Not in want, not unhappy.
In this time of fear and mass starvation, of worldwide deaths on a scale never seen before in the whole course of human history, that made her lucky. She knew it.
Whom she had been before, what had almost destroyed her—that life belonged to someone else. Most of the time, she didn’t even remember it herself.
She refused to remember it.
A siren screamed to life just meters behind the car she was traveling in. Startled, she sat upright in the back seat, heart lurching as she looked around.
Do they know? Are they after us?
A small knot of fans had been waiting outside the stage door as she’d left. One of them had thrust a program at her, requesting an autograph for Francoise. She’d signed—May your heart always sing, Genevieve Dumont—as previously instructed. What it meant she didn’t know. What she did know was that it meant something: it was a prearranged encounter, and the coded message she’d scribbled down was intended for the Resistance.
And now, mere minutes later, here were the Milice, the despised French police who had long since thrown in their lot with the Nazis, on their tail.
Even as icy jets of fear spurted through her, a pair of police cars followed by a military truck flew by. Running without lights, they appeared as no more than hulking black shapes whose passage rattled the big Citroën that up until then had been alone on the road. A split second later, her driver—his name was Otto Cordier; he worked for Max, her manager—slammed on the brakes. The car jerked to a stop.
“Sacre bleu!” Flying forward, she barely stopped herself from smacking into the back of the front seat by throwing her arms out in front of her. “What’s happening?”
“A raid, I think.” Peering out through the windshield, Otto clutched the steering wheel with both hands. He was an old man, short and wiry with white hair. She could read tension in every line of his body. In front of the car, washed by the pale moonlight that painted the scene in ghostly shades of gray, the cavalcade that had passed them was now blocking the road. A screech of brakes and the throwing of a shadow across the nearest building had her casting a quick look over her shoulder. Another military truck shuddered to a halt, filling the road behind them, stopping it up like a cork in a bottle. Men—German soldiers along with officers of the Milice—spilled out of the stopped vehicles. The ones behind swarmed past the Citroën, and all rushed toward what Genevieve tentatively identified as an apartment building. Six stories tall, it squatted, dark and silent, in its own walled garden.
“Oh, no,” she said. Her fear for herself and Otto subsided, but sympathy for the targets of the raid made her chest feel tight. People who were taken away by the Nazis in the middle of the night seldom came back.
The officers banged on the front door. “Open up! Police!”
It was just after 10:00 p.m. Until the siren had ripped it apart, the silence blanketing the city had been close to absolute. Thanks to the strictly enforced blackout, the streets were as dark and mysterious as the nearby Seine. It had rained earlier in the day, and before the siren the big Citroën had been the noisiest thing around, splashing through puddles as they headed back to the Ritz, where she was staying for the duration of her Paris run.
“If they keep arresting people, soon there will be no one left.” Genevieve’s gaze locked on a contingent of soldiers spreading out around the building, apparently looking for another way in—or for exits they could block. One rattled a gate of tall iron spikes that led into the brick-walled garden. It didn’t open, and he moved on, disappearing around the side of the building. She was able to follow the soldiers’