The War That Came Early: West and East

The War That Came Early: West and East by Harry Turtledove Page B

Book: The War That Came Early: West and East by Harry Turtledove Read Free Book Online
Authors: Harry Turtledove
to be alive.
    Luc knew exactly how they felt.
    PARIS IS WORTH A SOMETHING . One French king or another had said that, or something like that, a hell of a long time ago. So much Alistair Walsh knew—so much, and not a farthing’s worth more. The veteran underofficer had picked up bits and pieces of knowledge over the years, but too many of them remained just that: bits and pieces. They didn’t fit together to make any kind of recognizable picture.
    Staff Sergeant Walsh did know what Paris was worth to the Nazis, even if not to that long-ago and forgotten (at least by him) French king. It was worth everything. And, since they couldn’t get their hands on it—no matter how bloody close they’d come—they were doing their goddamnedest to ruin it for everybody else.
    He’d got leave at last—only a forty-eight-hour pass, but forty-eight hours were better than nothing. He could go back to the City of Light. He could drink himself blind. He could watch pretty girls dance and take off their clothes. He could visit a
maison de tolerance
, where a girl would take off her clothes just for him … if she happened to be wearing any when he walked into her upstairs room.
    He could do all that—if he didn’t mind taking the chance of getting blown up while he did it, or the almost equally unpleasant chance of spending big chunks of his precious, irreplaceable leave huddling in a cellar somewhere and praying no bomb scored a direct hit on the building overhead.
    The
Luftwaffe
visited almost every night now. Ever since it became clear the French capital wouldn’t fall into Germany’s hands like a ripe plum, Hitler seemed to have decided to knock it flat instead. With so much of northern France under German occupation, his bombers didn’t have to fly far to get there. They could carry full loads every night, drop them, and go back to bomb up again for a second trip before daybreak.
    All of which made Paris the greatest show on earth. The circus just hadto find itself a new slogan. Paris was every pinball machine and every fireworks display multiplied by a million. Searchlights darted everywhere, trying to pin bombers in their brilliant beams so the antiaircraft guns could shoot them down. Tracers from the guns scribed lines of red and gold and green across the sky’s black velvet. Even the bursting bombs were beautiful—if you didn’t happen to be too close to one when it went off.
    Paris had already taken a lot of punishment. The Arc de Triomphe had a chunk bitten out of it. The Eiffel Tower was fifty feet shorter than it had been—and a meteorologist who’d been up at the top was never buried, because they couldn’t find enough of him to put in a coffin. The Louvre had been hit. So had Notre Dame.
    You needed to be determined, then, or maybe a little loopy, if you wanted to visit Paris. Some people said Hitler had vowed to wipe the capital of Germany’s great continental rival off the face of the earth. Others claimed he was trying to terrify the Parisians, and the French in general, into tossing in the sponge.
    From what Walsh knew of the corporal who’d promoted himself field-marshal, and from what he knew of Germans, that last seemed likely to him.
Schrechlichkeit
, they called it—frightfulness. If you went into Paris with a forty-eight-hour pass, you had a respectable chance of not coming back. On the other hand, if you were anywhere near Paris with pass in hand and you didn’t go in … well, you might never see another chance.
    And so Walsh jumped into the back of a British lorry along with the other lucky sods who’d wangled a bit of leave. The lorry bounced over potholes the size of baby washtubs. Just outside of town, it got a flat. The passengers piled out to give the driver a hand. Changing a tire in the rapidly deepening dark was always an adventure. Walsh learned some bad language he’d never heard before. For a man who’d been a soldier for more than half a lifetime, that was almost worth the trip

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