I sat in my car in the parking lot of the post office staring at the envelope. The return address read “Heaven”and nothing else. I held the envelope up to the light but saw no clue as to what might be inside. I finally tore it open, only to find nothing more than a newspaper clipping. No letter, not even a note. I needed glasses to read the small print, so I fished them out of my purse. The clipping was an obituary. I read the first few sentences and started to cry. A man I’d thought too tough to kill, my Alexander the Great, my Caesar, my Napoleon Bonaparte, had died “…of natural causes at the age of 83.”
Over the years, whenever one of my sons or grandsons tried to impress me with how tough he was, I would tell them a story about one man’s heroic fights to the death during World War II, a time when it seemed as if nothing good could ever happen.
Born Francoise Marchand, I was 19 when the Nazis marched into Paris. I watched them beat my older brother to death, and take my mother and father away, who I would never see again. Me they kept alive. The Nazis used and abused me, forcing me to perform the vilest of acts. Eventually one of them gave me gonorrhea and after that they no longer wanted me around. They tossed me into the street and told me to go sleep with the Jews. I returned to my father’s farm on the outskirts of the city.
Within a few weeks, I found myself part of The Maquis, one of the Jewish resistance groups in France. Three months later I would meet Alexander Moss.
Alex was what you’d call a spy. He was with the American Secret Service, and he and a few other Americans fought alongside The Maquis for maybe a year. Alex was fluent in German and French, often wore a Nazi uniform, and sometimes took advantage of certain female members of The Maquis.
Back then, I was what the Americans called a good-looking dame. I was 5 feet, 6 inches tall with a pretty face and shapely figure. I used my good looks to help Alex capture Germans for interrogation. I played the part of an escort, a prostitute, if you will, but only once did I perform a sexual act, and then only to save myself from being murdered.
After working together on several missions, Alex one day cornered me in my kitchen and said he had fallen in love with me. At first, I couldn’t believe it. He knew I had been raped and brutalized, and he knew I had been naked with a German or two on our missions. How could a man fall in love with such a disgraced woman? I thought that Alex just wanted sex, so I told him I had been turned off men – all men – because of the earlier rapes. Alex said he understood, but from that day forward kept telling me of his feelings, and proved his genuine care for me on more than one occasion.
Once, with Alex hiding in my bedroom closet, I was trying to seduce a German sergeant into taking off his uniform (which, of course, would have made him an easier capture). I removed my dress and, standing in only my bra and panties, motioned for the sergeant to open his trousers. He screamed at me in German, slapped me, and punched me in the stomach. Alex burst unarmed from the closet. In a flurry of arms and legs, Alex knocked the German to the floor and then kept kicking the sergeant until he stopped moving and breathing. The German soldier was dead. “He earned it,” said Alex, speaking to me in French. “I didn’t mean to kill him, but what he was doing to you had nothing to do with him being a soldier.” I helped Alex to hide the body. We buried it in a pile of manure behind the barn.
Another time, I was sitting completely naked on the edge of my bed, waiting for a Nazi colonel to take off his clothes. But instead he pulled out a long knife and started toying with it, sliding the blade up and down between my legs, poking at my privates with the tip of it. Terrified, I started screaming. Alex stepped out of the closet and fired two shots, one into the colonel’s chest, and one into the back of his head. No capture. No interrogation. Another failed mission. We buried the colonel in the pile of manure as well.
Alone in my father’s house one August morning, I crawled out of my bed, pulled on a robe, and hurried into the kitchen to fix myself something to eat. Alex was supposed to have arranged for me to attend a party at the Officers’ Club that evening, and I was expecting him to stop in and let me know if the mission was still on. He’d give me the details and show me pictures of the man he wanted me to sidle up to, the man I’d lure into my father’s house. As I was cracking eggs into a frying pan, I heard banging on the front door. I hurried to answer it, thinking it might be Alex. About halfway through the parlor, I saw the door suddenly fly open. Eight Nazi soldiers stormed in, one a lieutenant, the others just soldiers.
“Jew! Jew!” cried the lieutenant, and all eight of them started shoving me from one to the other, pawing at my breasts and grabbing between my legs. They tore off my robe and forced me to my knees. In broken French the lieutenant said I was going to perform oral sex on all eight of them or he’d shoot me. “Maquis! Maquis!” he kept shouting.
I was doing the second soldier when Alex came to my rescue. He came crashing through the door, pistol in hand and shouting in German. Caught in their cowardly act, the soldiers panicked and ran through the nearest door, which took them into the cellar, a pitch-black darkness from which there was no other exit. Alex dashed over to where I was still on my knees in the parlor and gave me his pistol.
“I love you,” he said in French. “I’m going to see if we can get a head start getting you out of here. If anyone else comes through that door, start shooting.”
Then, armed with nothing more than a dagger strapped to his leg, Alex drew the dagger as he reached the cellar door. He yanked it open, stepped in, slammed it shut, and then proceeded down into the cellar.
Still on my knees, pistol at the ready, I listened in horror to the screams coming from the cellar. After what seemed like hours, eight German soldiers lay dead or dying in my father’s cellar, and Alex was helping me to put myself back together.
“How…how’d you do that?” I asked. “There were eight of them.”
Alex laughed. “All I had to do was kill anything warm I touched,” he said. “It was so dark down there, each of them died before being able to determine whether the man next to him was friend or foe.”
Alex and I spent the rest of that day in bed. He told me of his feelings for me. But while having sex with Alex was somewhat pleasurable for me, no feeling of love for him came to me. I was merely doing what I knew he wanted, and, of course, thanking the man who had saved me. It was the only time I ever had sex with Alex and it turned out to be the last time I was ever alone with him.
Two weeks later Alex failed to show up at a scheduled meeting. Soon after, I heard he had been taken prisoner and transported to a headquarters somewhere in Germany. Eventually The Maquis teamed me up with a Brit, and I continued playing the part of an escort until the American Army marched into Paris.
In the years since the war, I’ve lived in London, Chicago, Seattle, and Anchorage. I’ve married and divorced three men, mothered two sons and one daughter. I’ve worked as a waitress in run-down bars, classy clubs, and fancy restaurants, and I’ve owned a boutique here in Anchorage for more years than I can count. All things considered, I’ve lived a decent life in America. Every ten years or so, I’ve heard from Alex or one of his children, so I’ve always believed that Alex never really fell out of love with me. Somehow, he always knew where I lived. While I’ve never bothered to respond, I’ve never forgotten the man who had saved me from those eight German soldiers.
And now a newspaper clipping was telling me that Alexander Moss, the boldest, toughest man I’d ever known, was dead. I almost refused to believe it. Through my tears, it suddenly dawned on me that Alex had died of old age, and that was good. I had little doubt that the envelope did, in fact, come from Alex. I stopped crying, started my car, and drove home.
Janett L. Grady lives and writes with her husband in Palmer, Alaska. Her stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies, and on websites all over the country, and in a few magazines based the the United Kingdom.