Paris, Summer 1938
Colette and her friend Anne rushed across the boulevard Saint-Germain. They had just finished their last exam and were finally corporate secretaries. Most young French women would give their left arms to be in their shoes. At eighteen years of age, Colette and Anne had jobs lined up and the world at their feet. After a short walk, they reached the terrace of the Café Saint Michel. They sat down at their favorite table, ordered the aromatic brew so typical of the country, and waited for the students of the Sorbonne to come out in swarms from the old building across the street. Soon the boulevard Saint Michel would be bursting with activity. The cafés’ terraces would fill with young people eager to celebrate the onset of summer. There would be singing and maybe dancing. And there would definitely be flirting.
Colette was concentrating on watching a lanky, brown-haired boy holding a checkered flat hat in his hands hurriedly cross the street, when her view was obstructed by a very tall figure. The man in front of her must have been six feet four, at least. He looked very distinguished and not at all at ease in this environment. As a matter of fact, he looked kind of lost. His blond hair was shimmering in the sun, and his angular jaw made him look very masculine. Colette could not quite make out the color of his eyes but decided they must be blue. “What did this man want?” she wondered. At that very moment, he approached her, and in a very approximate French attempted to ask for directions to the Boulinier bookstore, after he introduced himself as Adam Walker. Colette was charmed to hear such an accent and figured that he must be a tourist from the United States of America. Since she was at the top of her class in English, she thought she would help him in his own language and spare him the indignity of having to stumble through the conversation in French. And instead of explaining to him that he only had to walk toward the boulevard Saint-Germain and stop about three blocks before he reached the Seine River, she opted to take him there herself.
As they walked along the boulevard Saint Michel, Adam could not help but notice that Colette was a very attractive young woman with the most eye-catching attributes. Indeed, not only was she beautiful, with her petite frame, long brown hair, blue eyes, and heart-shaped face, but she also spoke his language. And how refreshing was that? He had not uttered a word of English since he had arrived a few days earlier. This assignment was supposed to be easy; find the book his old colleague needed for his research, purchase the item, and travel back to the University of California at Berkeley, where he could go back to his own teaching. This was really supposed to be a vacation, a few weeks in France, where he could enjoy the women and the wine before going back to a quiet life in sunny California. Instead, he had gotten headache after headache as he realized that his high school French was far from being fluent. Now he knew. His teachers had lied to him. And he smiled to himself.
But this was only his cover. Tonight, he would have to meet with his informant. As a member of the United States intelligence community, Adam had been sent to France to gather information in order to prepare for the possibility of war. The rise to power of Adolph Hitler and the general tension in Europe appeared to be indicating an impending conflict. The United States would want to stay away, but it still needed to evaluate the scope of the problem and the impact on their barely recovering economy. Of course, Adam had to blend in with the French as much as he could during his stay.
But he was not off to a good start. As he was about to cross the street, Colette pulled him back as hard as she could and almost made him lose his balance. He was about to ask her for an explanation when he saw a white Delahaye cabriolet zoom by right where he would have stood, had Colette not interfered with his plan. This sweet little woman had effectively saved his life.
And before he could say a single word, she smiled at him and said, “This is Paris, sir, and French men are mad men on the road. You really need to pay attention if you want to stay alive.”
Colette had no idea how right she was. If Adam wanted to stay alive, in his line of work, he needed to be on his toes at all times. There would be no more daydreaming about this woman or anyone else for that matter. He had to stay focused.
Once they reached the bookstore, Colette was entrusted with the title of the book Adam was hunting for, so she could ask the store owner as to its whereabouts. After she learned where the book was located, they walked through the aisles, smelling and looking at all the beautifully decorated masterpieces that lay in front of them. But within minutes, Adam had purchased the old volume he was seeking and was walking out with Colette. He liked her. She was his damsel in shining armor. He liked her so much that he was going to ask her to be his guide for the remainder of his trip. It was a crazy idea, really, not one that would be conducive to much spying. But first he would ask her out to lunch the next day to thank her for all her help.
All too soon, they arrived back at Anne’s table. The faithful friend had been holding down the fort by herself and making sure seats were still available for Colette and her potential guest.
The wind had picked up a little, so Colette held her lightly flowing skirt close to her body as she sat down on the chair next to her friend. And when asked if he would sit with them for a while, Adam was more than happy to oblige. He did not want to be left to his own devices so early in the evening. After all, his meeting was not until ten o’clock that night. The sun was still shining, and the air was still warm and breezy as only the best of days can be in Paris. Colette ordered lemonade for herself and a glass of red wine for Adam. Once Adam shared his plans with his young new friend and made his offer, she accepted the job of being his tour guide; after all, she had a few weeks’ vacation before her new career would get under way. She would take full advantage of that time and gladly play tourist with the tall, handsome American. She had been right. His eyes were indeed blue, the deepest, most beautiful blue she had ever seen.
As Adam was walking back to his hotel on rue de Rivoli, he realized that as smitten as he was by Colette he knew very little about her. How old was she? How many brothers and sisters did she have? Were her parents still alive? Why had she chosen to become a secretary instead of going for a university degree? Did she want to move to the States? Now, where did that last question come from? He had just met the girl for heaven’s sake, and she had just become part of his cover. Anyhow, tomorrow, when she picked him up, he would have to ask most of them. He wanted and needed to know everything about her. And in spite of the wonderfully mellowing wine he had ingested in her presence, he knew that tonight, he would not find sleep easily.
He finally reached the corner of the rue de Rivoli and rue du Louvre. He was to meet a young Frenchman named Richard, and would acquire the file he needed to do a thorough analysis, which he would then present to Franklin D. Roosevelt in person within the next couple of months. This file represented essential intelligence gathered from many European countries over the last six months. He had been told that his contact was fluent in at least five languages and that he was able to pass as a citizen of at least as many countries. Once the exchange was made, Adam headed back to his hotel.
Soon enough he reached his destination, He asked for the key to his room and went straight up so the clerk would not start a pointless conversation. He had had enough French for one day and only wanted to go to his room so he could look at his newly acquired file.
To try to calm down, he opted to take a bath. But through the soap suds, all he could see was Colette and her warm, gentle smile. He would count the seconds until he could see her again. And instead of counting sheep, he did just that. It was obviously not a very effective sleep aid, and Adam saw the sunrise before he was able to close his eyes.
Colette was walking on air. She would see Adam tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that, and for the next three weeks. She had taken the metro to the twentieth arrondissement, where her parents lived with her maternal grandparents. She was grinning from ear to ear as she walked in the door of their apartment. She kissed them all to say hello and waltzed to her room. Her little brother, fourteen-year-old Pierre, looked shocked. What had gotten into Colette? She had never acted so dim-witted before. Her twelve-year-old sister, Josette, had a similar expression on her face. And without even consulting each other, both youngsters ran after her. They always wanted to know everything about their older sister’s life, and Colette obliged them by regaling them with stories of the day’s escapades. But today was special. She wanted to keep this adventure to herself. She felt as if sharing it would make it disappear. So she talked about her exams, her graduation, and her upcoming job. She discussed the singing and the laughing that went on in the cafés and the frenzy with which all the students wanted to celebrate, but she did not utter a word about her striking and oh-so-temporary new boss.
Once she was done with her daily show-and-tell, she put on her cotton nightgown and went straight to bed. She wanted to get her beauty sleep before she met Adam the next day. She fully intended on making him notice her. She wanted her first kiss to be with this man she had just met. She just knew it was going to be special. And unlike the man of her dreams, she fell asleep within seconds.
When Colette woke up, everyone was still asleep. Even her grandparents, who generally started their day at dawn, were not out of their room. For once, she would surprise them all and make them black coffee so they could have a fresh cup without having to brew it themselves. After she was done with a breakfast that consisted of a big bowl of café au lait and buttered toast, she washed her hair, ironed her dress, and polished her shoes. By then the house was stirring, and her sister joined her in her room. She had just put on her favorite dress with bouffant sleeves and a well-adjusted waist.
Eager to have her sister’s opinion, she asked, “What do you think? Do you like the beautiful flowers on the fabric, or is it too much?”
Before Josette could reply, Pierre, who was passing by Colette’s bedroom in his pajamas, teased, “You look like a big flowerpot. Beware of the bees out there!”
Josette said reassuringly to her older sister, “Of course not! You look beautiful, as always!”
And on that note, Colette said good-bye to her family and left for her temporary job. As she walked outside, she thought she should take the subway and head for rue de Rivoli. She was to meet Adam at his hotel so she could accompany him on his Paris discovery.
The trip was not too long, and soon she was waiting for him in the lobby. His arrival took her breath away. The man was just too tall. And his shoulders were just too wide. He was wearing a very proper brown tweed jacket, navy-blue slacks, a blue cotton shirt, and a matching tie. If the weather was going to be any hotter than it had been the previous day, Colette thought that the poor man would surely melt on the spot. She bade him a good morning and pointed him toward the door.
Adam could not wait to see Colette again. He had barely slept, and so when the sun came up, he was ready to meet her in the lobby. She, of course, did not arrive until a few hours later. She looked young and beautiful in her freshly pressed flower-print dress, with her long hair flowing over her shoulders, her big blue eyes, and her well rested face with her angelic smile. He greeted her with a warm handshake and walked toward the door as she had instructed him.
Once they were on the boulevard, Colette entrusted Adam with her plans for the day. They would first go to the Eiffel Tower and walk on the champ de Mars. They would then have lunch in a bistro by the Seine River and would end the afternoon with a walk in the Luxembourg Gardens. It would be a full and tiring day, but much would be accomplished, and Adam would be satisfied he was getting his money’s worth of Paris adventures.
So Colette led him through the maze that eventually got them on the metro and out into the fresh air near the Eiffel Tower. And as they climbed up the iron structure, Adam could see Paris in all its glory. The view was magnificent. From the Sacré Coeur to Notre Dame, he could see all the old buildings that spanned the city. Colette’s enthusiasm for her hometown was catching, and Adam soon believed he was looking at the most beautiful town in the world with the most attractive woman he had ever seen.
By the time they walked back down, they were starving. Since the Eiffel Tower was right on the Seine, they were able to get to their restaurant within a few minutes. The place was a typical French bistro where the food was prepared family style by the owner’s wife. They ate the dish of the day, a petit salé aux lentilles, the only dish served in the establishment, and a dessert of îles flotantes. The meal was served with a nice ruby-red wine that mellowed the senses, the kind of wine that would make anyone drinking it want to go for a nap under a tree in a quiet park. But to Adam’s great surprise, instead of looking for the most luscious grass under the thickest tree, Colette ordered coffee and asked for the day’s newspaper.
They spent the next hour reading and discussing current events. She too had been worried about an upcoming war. She was concerned about Hitler and the fact that European countries were not preparing for a conflict. Granted, they had fought the last war thinking it would indeed be the very last. But hiding their head in the sand regarding Germany’s advances toward a conflict was just plain ridiculous, explained Colette. The young lady was more than a pretty face. She was smart, and she understood much more about the intricacies of world politics than most American young women her age. She was a delight to be around.
Once Adam paid the check, they walked through the Luxembourg Gardens and found a nice tree that would allow them to digest peacefully. They sat down on the grass, and Adam loosened his tie as the day was getting warmer and warmer.
And as he was staring at Colette, wondering what hold this woman had over him, she said, “There is going to be a thunderstorm soon.”
“And how do you know that?” replied the young professor.
She answered, a little surprised by the question, “It’s obvious. The swallows are flying low. That generally means that a thunderstorm is coming. And that’s good because it will clear the air, and tomorrow will be much cooler.”
That was music to Adam’s ears. He was dying in his tweed jacket and long-sleeved shirt. Thank God he had loosened his tie, but that was only helping a little.
After a nice long rest, they opted not to tempt fate and decided to walk back to Adam’s hotel. But about halfway through their journey, the storm Colette had mentioned started throwing buckets of water at them. They decided to run for it, but by the time they reached the front door, they were both soaking wet.
Colette’s hair was dripping little beads of water onto her already soaked dress, now clinging to her body. Adam could just make out a hint of skin under the wet fabric. She looked lovely. He really wanted to be a gentleman; he did not want to scare her off. After all, he was ten years older than her. But he wanted her. He wanted her so badly that his whole body ached. So he leaned forward and placed his mouth on hers. To his great surprise, she pulled back instantly and slapped him as hard as she could.
“I don’t know what you are doing, but you have got the wrong impression. I am not that kind of girl,” she told him in the coldest tone she could muster.
Want more? You can buy the book here.