The Old Men of Paris
Chapter One - Chess Pieces
Paris, France - 2:48 am.
The group of old, haggard men gathered quietly and inconspicuously in the dark, worn down, parking garage. They said nothing. There was no time for introduction, there was no time for pleasantries. They were in a hurry and knew their responsibility well. Something had gone terribly wrong. At least that’s what the message had indicated by it’s odd timing. Only urgency would prevail now. They must get to the Bishop, and get to him now. No time for explanation.
The message was not at all surprising, but the manner of it’s arrival was most irregular. It was sent at 2:18 am via an encrypted, anonymous text message sent from a local phone number. The subject read: Rasputin1225. The phone number wasn’t the important part or of concern; they were all disposable and never used more than once. But they always contained the name Rasputin, with a variation of other numbers and letters - it really didn’t matter as long as Rasputin was included, or at least a version of Rasputin - like Rasp, or Putin. That was the key. That was the verification of legitimacy. What followed would be a set of instructions indicating time and place for a meeting. This, however, was the first message ever to be sent after midnight. Out of sequence.
Things had gotten clumsy as of late. Three Hundred Seventy million francs had been distributed to the German foreign office as planned, but the frequency and methods where not as cautious or as covert as they had been over that last eighteen months. Lately, things seemed to be rushed. Reporters were beginning to ask questions. Before long, an inquiry would be made by the French government. So as pressure was mounting, and the “survivors”, as they called themselves, were closing in on perfectly executing the plan. Rasputin, or control, had become more and more careless and also more flamboyant. That’s why the message was alarming. It was out of sequence. Something had drastically changed from the older, more sure ways of doing things.
The text message had only contained one word: “Fou”. The French word for bishop - as in the chess piece. The irony was not lost on each recipient. They were all chess pieces in this incredibly dangerous game, and they knew it. But they were also honored men of much respect and reverence. Each a prominent and popular leader of their varying and great religious or secular establishments. Everyone, that was, except Jean-Moulin, the war hero of the resistance. He was as much their captain now as he had been to his French comrades during the dark times. He would lead them to victory as he had done in the past. But there was still much to do.
Jean-Moulin struggled to get his bearings in the dark as he rounded the last corner before reaching the discrete, parking facility. The lazy taxi driver had been suspicious of something, probably drink at his passenger’s age in life and the location, but he had said nothing. He had dropped the old, war hero off two blocks away, and then mumbled something under his breath. He had not noticed his passenger’s clothing or general, indigent appearance, only the late hour and that the exact change had been given him. Nothing more. Nothing else mattered. He had a family to feed.
As Jean-Moulin made his final approach to the meeting ground, he paused to look at his surroundings - just as he had done so many times before, long ago. He removed a worn handkerchief from his coat pocket and wiped the sweat from his forehead. He could see his breath in the cold air. Spring was approaching, but not tonight.
The smell of urine and gasoline made him gag a bit. This was not the best neighborhood for safety, but it would do. The Bishop had chosen wisely when he decided on the one location that would always represent him, his religion, and his interests if necessary. They each had a location picked out and used in cases of emergency or for discrete meetings with other of the “survivors”.
The parking garage was almost entirely covered in darkness. It fell under the shadow of the great St-Etienne-du-Mont Church, in the Latin quarter of Paris. It was a proud, elegant, gothic edifice that projected strength and courage. It resembled the great Notre Dame only slightly, but it's real charm lay in the great bell tower.
Strategically, it served as the ideal location for a quick, impromptu meeting place. The garage conveniently exited onto the Rue Ste-Geneviève and there were any number of passers-by at all times of day or night. Yes, the Bishop had chosen well, he thought, as he slowed his pace and looked in all directions.
He shivered, braced himself, and then appeared from the shadows to join the others on the first level. The Bishop had not yet arrived. Jean recognized two of the three men who stood quietly in the shadows across the parking lot. He had worked with Marco before and respected his efficiency and economy of movement. Not easy for a seventy-nine year old man who had suffered many injuries through the years. He therefore, had professional respect for his former resistance colleague and would, no doubt, need his expertise in the upcoming days if they were to survive.
Di’Antoni too had been there in the early years. He was very fierce and passionate, and would never give up on any mission or assignment that he personally had committed to completing. He had not been a good soldier, but he could track or tail anyone better than anyone else Jean-Moulin knew. He was stealthy and invisible. It was his gift. Jean-Moulin hoped that Di’Antoni could still maneuver and function with at least a third of the efficiency of his younger days.
The third man wasn’t familiar at all to Jean-Moulin, and he stood out from the rest. He was younger, in his early sixties, and not as frail. Jean-Moulin evaluated the newcomer. His hair was mostly black, but there was an alarming streak of grey above the left ear. This had an striking effect to all who saw him. Narcissism, thought Jean-Moulin as he continued his observation of the new man. No noticeable sign of a firearm concealed beneath his jacket or other weapon could be distinguished from this distance, but there was something in the man’s demeanor that nagged at the old war hero's senses. But, after all, he thought, he could be wrong, it was still early in the morning.
The financial part of the plan was simple. They only needed to move and position the assets so that the Bishop and the church could get them into the right hands. The legitimacy of the Catholic Church and indeed the Archbishop of Paris himself made the deal not only irresistible, but it seemed to be blessed by God Himself. Jean-Moulin smiled at the irony of the European Union being swindled by the Catholic Church in such an overt manner.
Interrupting his thoughts, a large, black limousine rounded the corner down the Rue Ste-Geneviève, lights blaring and blinding the small group of old men and then came close to the parking garage before screeching to a stop.
So much like the Bishop to flaunt his arrival to all who would be carefully watching. So arrogant. So unprofessional. But, he was not there in the early days. He could not understand completely the need for discretion. He would simply assume that because of the late hour his identity would be kept secret and safe by the darkness. After all, who would go out into the cold night just to follow His Excellency, the Archbishop of Paris?
One advantage of His Excellency’s arrival was certainly the bodyguards that undoubtedly would be coming alongside the important man. Jean-Moulin was counting on them. He needed them, if only to reassure his aging paranoia. These particular men were Jesuits, and things were out of sequence. They would know what to do if the need arose.
This meeting was by and large not necessary. Everyone simply needed to complete their given assignments. This entire evening unnerved Jean-Moulin and wreaked of incompetence. As soon as the Archbishop was close enough, he would need to instruct His Excellency on the finer points of discretion. But not until all were accounted for and safe.
The Archbishop got out of the large, warm car without waiting for his driver to open the door. The icy wind blew his white, long bangs over his eyes, and the holy man slicked them back into place in one fluid motion. He’d done that before, it seemed.
He briskly walked up to the garage and nodded curtly to the others. Then his eyes fixed on the new man.
“But, why are you here? The CIA cannot be involved!”, he said in english.
“I’m the one who called this meeting!” Whispered the new man through gritted teeth, trying to hush the Archbishop.
Jean-Moulin noted his American accent, however faint, and decided not to trust him. At least not yet. Not until he’d explained himself and the reason for this bizarre sequence of events. So, the Americans were involved in this as well? The CIA?
“Who are you?”, asked Jean-Moulin. It was, after all, his team of trusted soldiers and important men. He had hand-picked each one of them for a specific reason and a specific purpose.
“Why did you call this meeting?” he started to ask again. “This is out of sequence. Why--“
The question would never be answered.
An eardrum blasting noise came from the upper level, or so it seemed. Jean-Moulin knew exactly what it was, and he instantly hit the floor and rolled towards the nearest car. Gunfire! A high-caliber rifle.
Two more shots rang out, and then silence.
Where was it coming from? And where was the safest retreat? Jean-Moulin looked around to see where the other men were. That’s when the significance of this meeting struck him like a punch to his old, haggard face.
They’d been set up. All of them. The CIA. How could he have not seen? Why hadn't he trusted his old, survival instincts? If the CIA was involved, they were all in danger. The entire plan was at great risk.
He scrambled to find the Archbishop and his stomach churned inside him when he saw His Excellency sprawled out, laying face down on his stomach with a large pool of his own blood seeping from his neck. Half of the back side of this head was blown completely off and sprayed across the parking garage. Jean-Moulin fought back the bile and the urge to vomit. This was turning out to be too much like the old days.
He looked around for the rest of the men. Marco was under an older Peugeot and would be safe for the moment. They had run three separate raids on the Nazi barracks together. Marco was fierce and nothing seemed to frighten him. He would be fine for now.
Di’Antoni was hiding by the large, garbage bin. He’d been hit, but he had found his gun and was preparing to mount a defense. His eyes were wide, and darted back and forth. Jean-Moulin sighed to himself at the sight. Di’Antoni had lost his nerve, and consequently would be butchered if he tried to resist. He had never seen live action, but had supplied the resistance brotherhood with ammunition and weapons at great risk to his family's safety.
He was no soldier. He would eventually panic and either be killed, or worse, captured.
The firing had come from above and towards the exit. Where were the bodyguards? Jean-Moulin couldn’t see them anywhere. In fact, he didn't remember seeing them get out of the limousine. Again, out of sequence. Also, where was the new man from America? Where had he gone? Vanished into thin air, it would seem.
The next thirty to forty seconds would be the most critical. If the assassin or assassins were still around, they would be closing in fast. If they had fled, then Jean-Moulin would simply need to wait it out and then assess the damage. But, his instincts told him to make sure. He also needed a weapon. If he could reach Di’Antoni it would help their situation greatly.
The Archbishop was dead. No doubt about it. Half of his shattered head was splattered into the garage and half of his chest was blown apart. Who would do such a thing? It was a high-powered rifle for certain. Jean-Moulin wondered about this for a moment. The executioner's weapon meant several things. First, it was a coordinated operation. Second, the assassin would most likely be escaping the scene now rather than approaching the remaining men.
The execution wasn’t the part that preoccupied his attention. More disconcerting was the fact that they’d been penetrated. More people knew about their operation than he had previously believed. Was this really part of the plan? Was the CIA part of the overall plan? Had Rasputin known about this and approved it? What about the American and his involvement? Why had he fled? It certainly placed he and the CIA as the traitors in this scenario. Nothing made sense. Out of sequence.
He made a decision. The old hero of the French resistance sluggishly rose to his feet and limped quickly from behind the car and past the wall that sheltered Di’Antoni. He motioned to the other men to stand down, be quiet and to wait. He then removed his cell phone and dialed a number that he had hoped never to need to call.
Despite the early hour, the phone was answered after the second ring. Jean-Moulin spoke quickly and softly.
“We’ve been penetrated,” He said.
Then he waited on the line for a moment before responding.
“The Archbishop was the target. He's dead. Di’Antoni is hit. The American is nowhere to be found. The Archbishop mentioned the CIA just before he was shot.”
After receiving brief instructions, he snapped the phone shut and looked Di’Antoni in the eye as his aged companion began to wrap the wounded arm. After a few moments he whispered to his old comrades, “We will make finding the American our top priority. Then we must watch and see who they send. It will tell us what we need to know about the CIA." He smiled at Di'Antoni sympathetically.
"You won’t be going back to your bed this night, my old friend. I need you at the airport. Get as many of the survivors as possible to go with you.”
Writer of screenplays, fiction novels, inspirational stories, and short stories.