“Is a ghost whispering in your ear?” Emil asks me now. He touches my cheek softly. “You’ve gone quite pale.”
“I was just on my way to Olympia to see if they have any more of the jam you like. We’ve run completely out, and I thought you might want it for the journey,” I lie.
He has a faraway look. “You’re just as you were on the morning I found you--so pale--so beautiful. Has it really been more than two years ago?”
“Almost two and a half,” I murmur.
“The needle in the hay, that’s what you were, Simone, and I found you.”
“I hardly remember that day,” I lie. It’s etched in my brain; I have nightmares of it often.
Emil smiles at me now in admiration as he had then. “Nothing breaks your heart. You’re bulletproof. You’re like me--we both keep so many secrets.”
“If I don’t go now, it will be closed.”
My excuse to meet Xavier slips away from me the moment I see his scowl. “I don’t want your French jam. It will taste like the bitterest defeat now. I’ll never eat it again.” He watches me for a moment. His thumb comes up to trace my lips. I drop my chin. He lifts the silver wolf head of his cane beneath my chin, raising it so that he can see my eyes. “Do you know what I want?” he asks.
“I’d like a kiss.”
I show no emotion as I lift my lips to his cheek and press them lightly against his skin. As I pull away, my eyes meet his.”
“You belong to me, Simone. You know that, don’t you?”
He touches the lace of my collar, admiring the fine detail of the day dress he chose for me. “Good. Come, I want to hear you play while the staff packs.” He takes my hand and leads me back toward the grandeur of the main house. I don’t resist. Entering through the kitchen, I nearly stumble to a halt as I see the blood-spattered wall and lifeless body of Tomas, the head chef, near the cast iron stove. Emil’s hand gestures toward the blood pooling on the floor. “Tomas cannot come with us to our next location. I will miss him; I enjoyed his soufflé.”
I avert my eyes at once. Death is a regular occurrence here. I had thought Tomas had a better chance than most of surviving the German occupation. I was wrong.
Emil leads me to the music room. He opens the enormous doors, spreads them wide, and allows me to enter before him. The room is arranged with opulent furniture: centuries old carved mahogany chairs, gold-silk covered sofas, and a light-blue silk tufted settee among others. Most of the artwork that had adorned this space has been removed, shipped to the Fatherland to be hoarded by relatives of the officers who reside here. Large, discolored patches of plaster remain as a testament to where they had been.
We cross the immaculate blue and gold carpet to the black bench placed in front of the piano of the same hue. All of the silver frames near the piano have images of the family who had once lived here. I don’t know what happened to them, but they’re richer by far for not having to remain.
As I settle on the bench, I lift my eyes to Emil’s blue ones. The strawberry-blond highlights in his hair shine in the waning sun from the window as he doffs his Fliegertruppe cap. “What would you like to hear?” I ask.
“Play Johann Pachelbel’s ‘Canon in D,’” Emil smiles. He drops his cap on the chair near us.
I remove my white gloves and take my hat from my hair, placing the gloves inside of it. Emil takes them from me and puts them on the chair beside his. As I rest my fingertips on the smooth ivory keys, gunshots explode from the floors above. My eyes rise to look at the ceiling, hearing the violent, high-pitched screams of women’s voices and the heavy pounding of running feet. “It’s just a bit of housekeeping, Simone. The staff cannot come with us; we have to be sure they won’t see something that they shouldn’t. I’ve given orders that they be...retired.” His hand rests heavily on my shoulder.
“You’ll kill them all?” I choke on the words.
“All but you, Simone. I have spared you.” He caresses my cheek before he urges, “Now play for me.” I hesitate for a moment, trying to think of a way to convince him to spare the lives of the staff. Emil leans close to my ear and growls, “Play!”
The first staggering notes of ‘Canon in D’ are hardly discernable above the chaos and clamor. The pistol reports shatter the very air. Agnes, one of the chambermaids, pleads for her life, but her terrified cry is cut short. I concentrate on the keys so that my fingers won’t shake and I fade away into the music. I hide in the notes, momentarily free from the terror of the Lille chateau. It’s only when the song ends that I begin to pray.
I cannot stay here a moment longer...I can’t stay...Xavier, please come, Xavier, please...
Emil whispers in my ear, “Again, Simone.”