About The Siren of Paris
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Born in Paris and raised in the United States, 21-year-old Marc Tolbert enjoys the advantages of being born to a wealthy, well-connected family.. Reaching a turning point in his life, he decides to abandon his plans of going to medical school and study art in Paris. In 1939, he boards a ship and heads to France, blissfully unaware that Europe -- along with the rest of the world -- is on the brink of an especially devastating war.
When he arrives at l'École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts, more ominous signs surface. There are windows covered with tape, sandbags shielding the fronts of important buildings, whispers of Parisian children leaving the city, and gas masks being distributed. Distracted by a blossoming love affair, Marc isn't too worried about his future, and he certainly doesn't expect a Nazi invasion of France.
Marc has a long journey ahead of him. He witnesses, first-hand, the fall of Paris and the departure of the French government. Employed by an ambassador, he visits heads of state, including the horribly obese gray-haired Mussolini and the charismatic Hitler. He witnesses the effects of the tightening vise of occupation, first-hand, as he tries to escape the country. He also participates in the French resistance, spends time in prison camps, and sees the liberation of the concentration camps. During his struggles, he is reunited with the woman he loves, Marie, who speaks passionately of working with the resistance. Is she working for freedom, or is she not to be trusted?
June 15, 1940
After breaking camp that morning, the group drove the last few miles into the port of Saint-Nazaire. Marc studied the soldiers marching on the road as the truck passed them.
“I thought, Allen, that most left at Dunkirk,” Marc asked.
“These are the support troops, and other units not cut off at Dunkirk.”
“But, over the radio, they said everyone.”
“Of course they did,” Allen said, and then looked over the side toward Saint Nazaire in the distance. The truck crested the hill, and Allen saw thousands of men in front of him amassing in fields around the port city.
“Where are you coming from?” the officer said as they stopped on the road just outside the city.
“Nantes,” the driver replied.
“Any Germans yet?” the officer sounded more like the guard of a camp.
“None on the ground, but in the air we had quite a few close calls.”
“Drive down over there and put the truck in drive, before you get out,” the soldier said. All along the road by the beach, soldiers were taking trucks and driving them into the open sea. Marc watched the odd carnival of men shouting as they drove the trucks and lorries into the surf.
“Are we siphoning the petrol?” Allen asked.
“No need. I am nearly empty, anyway,” the officer said.
“All out back here,” Allen called to the front.
“Oh hey, and there you go, my lady.” The officer then jumped from the truck as it drove down the beach into the surf. Just fifty yards away, another truck drove toward the sea. And all along the shore in front of them were trucks and vehicles either sticking out of the ocean, or buried in the sand from the previous high tide.
Marc could not help but be captivated by the scene. As they walked toward the port, hundreds of trucks and cars laid abandoned. Many had open hoods and it was clear that they’d been sabotaged. A large bonfire soared into the sky as quartermasters burned supplies that were to be left behind. Along the town and docks, the city was overtaken with scores of fleeing soldiers and refugees.
“Sister, I think we are best heading back to stay with the other men near the airway,” Allen said to Sister Clayton.
“The children cannot sleep out in the open. I’m sure the local church can put us up. Even if we have to sleep on a floor, it is better to be inside,” she protested.
“Well, you could be right, but Marc and I are going to go back and hang close to the soldiers, because when word comes it is time to get on a ship, we need to be with them,” Allen said.
“We are not going to be far, but stay in the town and I am sure we will find you in the morning,” Sister Clayton said as they separated that day. It was early yet, and the men pouring into the airfield looked like a ragtag of souls. Marc and Allen ended up walking back into the port and even taking in a movie to help the time pass. Air raid sirens made their calls and a plane dived in on the port, but nothing terribly serious happened that day. Throughout the night, sleeping out in the open with the other men of the BEF, Marc and Allen noticed the constant flow of new men arriving at all hours.
It was the afternoon of the following day that ships came into port. Marc and Allen rushed with the soldiers of the airfield down to the port, looking for the other members of their convoy from Paris. Long lines formed as boats took the men out to the ships. A hospital ship arrived and offered to take men aboard if they abandoned their gear, but they refused.
“Should I go look for them?” Marc asked Allen.
“It really is not that important. They are going to catch a ship by the same dock we are on. It is not as if there are fifty ways to get out of here. They might have got out to a ship even before we made our way down here,” Allen said, while waiting in the line.
“You’re right. I never thought about that,” Marc said. He watched more men pile into the lines down at the port.
At ten that night, the port master shut down the line. “The lights will draw the planes! Shut off those lights!” he yelled as he passed the lines. It started to rain, and Marc and Allen crowded under the eave of a building with a group of soldiers. Several men ran over to the barrels, and used a tarp to create a small refuge from the soaking.
“Wherever Sister Clayton and the others found to stay, I sure hope it’s dry,” Allen complained to Marc. Marc pulled at Allen’s coat and pointed toward the wine barrels.
“Let’s get over by the wine. At least if they’re hit by a raid, we can get drunk as we die,” Marc joked. They made their way over to find a dry spot to sleep for the night.
“Boys, time to muster up to the dock,” the shouts came at four in the morning.
“Holy Mother of God, one bullet, Allen, and we’d be done for,” Marc said, amazed at just how stupid he’d been to not pay better attention. The barrels were not wine but paraffin. After joining a long line of soldiers, Marc and Allen finally boarded the fifth trawler to take the men out to one of the evacuation ships. Marc looked out to a single-stack liner as the small vessel took them out over the bay. It was about five decks high with a sweeping profile. The funnel was dark grayish black, the portholes blacked out with paint.
“I feel bad, Allen, that we’re separated now from the others,” Marc said as he looked up the side of the ship.
“Marc, there are going to be dozens of ships. Just look over there,” Marc pointed to a two-stack liner about a mile away. “No one is going to be left behind, but I cannot help who, how and when everyone gets aboard a ship home.”
“Rank and unit?” the officer asked as they crossed the threshold.
“I am in the diplomatic corps, and so is my friend here, from the American Embassy,” Marc said. The soldier looked perplexed, as if he couldn’t decide what to do next. “Like officers, except we’re civilians working for the embassy,” Marc explained.
“Excellent, yes. Here are your cabin numbers and a ticket for the dining room,” the officer said.
They made their way down to C Deck and to their assigned cabin. Allen opened the door and there were already two men inside. One of the men had a white Angora rabbit on his chest and the second read a book through his thick glasses.
“Welcome,” said the man with the rabbit.
“The bottom bunks are yours.” Soon after Marc and Allen got settled in, another group of men came to the door and had tickets with the same cabin.
“Sorry, we are all out of room,” Allen said to the weary young soldier. The hallways filled fast with soldiers trying to get from deck to deck and cabin to cabin. Each of the men carried a duffle or sack of some sort with their gear. The voices of commanders pierced the thin wood walls of the staterooms.
About David LeRoy
A native of California, David received a BA in Philosophy and Religion at Point Loma Nazarene College in San Diego. After returning from a European arts study program, he became interested in the history behind the French Resistance during World War Two. Writing fiction has become his latest way to explore philosophical, moral and emotional issues of life. The Siren of Paris is his first novel. You can visit him at http://www.thesirenofparis.com/.
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