Thursday, July 7, 2022

The Sidewalk Café

Luftwaffe soldiers at a Paris café, 1941
Guillaume was standing outside of a small café near the center of the town of Épernay. He had a cigar box tucked under his left arm and he looked up and down the street as he nervously smoked yet another Gauloises.

Finally, the couple who had been sitting at the small table on the sidewalk outside the café got up and left. He stepped back into the shadows under the awning of the small shop next to the café and pulled a pistol out of the cigar box, tucking it quickly into his coat pocket. His hands were very sweaty.

As they did everyday at about this time, two Germans rolled up in a small Citroën. The driver parked, then got out and opened the back door for an officer. The officer went to the just vacated table and sat down. A waiter took his time getting outside to the German. Though the weather was getting chilly this late in November, sitting outside in the sun sipping a strong drink was still favored by many, including this German.

Guillaume looked up the street, he could see the truck driven by the man he only knew as Charles. He noticed a puff of exhaust as Charles started the truck and began to roll slowly down the street.

Guillaume got to the German's table before the waiter.

"Excusez-moi, auriez-vous un allume-cigare?¹"

Oberstleutnant Horst Weller had been looking for the waiter, the idiot seemed to get slower every time he visited this café. When he heard the Frenchman speaking to him, he turned.

"What? What do you want you gabbling Frenchman? I don't speak your language." he had spoken far more gruffly than he had intended. It was then he noticed that the Frenchman had a cigarette. Ah, he wanted a light.

"Moment bitte." Weller said as he reached for the tunic pocket which held his cigarettes and lighter.

When the German reached for his pocket, Guillaume tossed his cigarette to one side. As Charles had predicted, the German's head turned to follow the cigarette, no doubt confused as to why someone would ask for a light, then throw the cigarette away.

When the German's head turned, Guillaume drew the pistol from his pocket. When the German turned to look back at Guillaume, his hand was still trying to reach his cigarette lighter. His eyes grew wide as he looked down the barrel of Guillaume's Walther P 38 pistol, a pistol "liberated" from one of the two dead Germans in the forest.

When the German opened his mouth, Guillaume fired his pistol.

Oberschütze Phillip Steiner jumped when he heard the shot close by, he turned in that direction. He scrambled for the door handle and his pistol at the same time when he saw his officer slumping at his table, blood spurting from his neck.

Finally he had his pistol in hand, safety still on, and the door to the car half opened. At that very moment he sensed movement behind the car, he caught a glimpse of a truck coming down the road and a man very near the rear of the Citroën.

"Was machst du ..." was all he managed to say before he saw the Frenchman's pistol. He aimed and pulled the trigger of his P 08 but it failed to fire.

The Frenchman's pistol barked and Steiner's world went dark.

"Stop the truck!" Guillaume couldn't hold it in any longer.

Charles stopped the truck just inside the forest, then he watched in amazement as the man he thought of as a cold blooded killer scrambled out of the truck and vomited his breakfast onto the side of the road.

He had, not ten minutes ago, shot a German officer in the throat at a table on the sidewalk, then had walked over to the officer's driver and shot him down without batting an eye. Guillaume had then got into the truck and said, "Let's go." As if this was something he did every day.

When Guillaume got back into the truck, he didn't say a word. Charles knew better than to say anything. "We all have our demons," he thought.

That night, Duroc had questioned Guillaume about his behavior. The man had responded by lighting a cigarette, then sitting down. Duroc could see that the hand which held the cigarette was shaking.

"Mon Capitaine, when I killed the German on the road, in the forest, I was angry. I was tired of being pushed around and not fighting back. Today, at the café, I was not angry, in fact I was terrified. Of killing that man and of failing. I presume that had I failed Charles would have left me?"

"Yes, he would have. But you didn't fail, Caporal Michaux. You executed your task perfectly. It is hard to kill a fellow human when you are calm and collected. Yet you did so. Your reaction afterward was perfectly natural." Duroc nodded as he said that. He remembered the first time he had had to kill a man in cold blood. It was near Sedan, during the retreat. A young German messenger had driven his motorcycle into the small French detachment Duroc commanded.

While his men had stood staring at the German, and the German at them, Duroc had drawn his sidearm and stepped forward. The German began to raise his hands in surrender, he looked surprised when Duroc shot him, twice, in the chest.

Duroc was surprised that the man didn't die instantly but fell to the road and began to cough and moan. He was dying but it was messy. So Duroc had stepped forward again, and shot the young man in the head, ending his agony.

Duroc still saw the young German's face in his nightmares. He suspected that he would for as long as he lived.

Sighing, Duroc reached for the bottle of cognac he kept for these occasions and a single glass. He poured the liquid then handed it to the Corporal. "Drink this, it helps for the initial shock."

Guillaume nodded, took  the offered glass and drank it all down in one swallow. It burned, but it felt good in a way.

"Merci, mon Capitaine. I think I shall go find something to eat." as he stood, Duroc held up a hand.


Duroc went back to a corner of the hut and retrieved something. When he came back into the dim light cast by the small lantern, Guillaume saw that the Captain held a rifle, a German rifle.

"This came from the man you stabbed on the road. It is yours now."

Guillaume looked down at the German K98k, "A fine weapon, Sir. Vive la France."

Duroc nodded and said, "Let us hope so, Caporal, we have a hard fight ahead."

After Guillaume left, Duroc sat down and muttered, "A hard fight and a long one. May God have mercy on us all."

¹ Pardon me, would you have a lighter? (French)


  1. Well done, Sarge! A perfectly constructed and written vignette that could stand on its own.
    Boat Guy

  2. Your Muse is on a roll. No mention of taking either the officier's or the driver's weapons? Left for the villagers to take, or left to show the villiagers were not involved? The chain of consequences is really more of a net, catching those around it.

    1. The shooting was both a test (for Guillaume) and a message (to the Nazis). There was no time for the weapons to be picked up, a quick hit and run if you will.

    2. Of course, there's the chance that somebody else spirited away the guns before the "chain dogs" showed up.

  3. Trial by fire, Guillaume lives for another day. Story telling is going good Sarge.

  4. another vignette that begs for more! Excellent writing!

  5. I have never been the position to harm anyone and (God willing) will never be, but I think you have precisely captured the sense of it.

    One of the lines spoken by Shimada Kambei in "Samurai Seven" (Anime adaptation of Seven Samurai; rather enjoyable in my opinion) is that to be a samurai is to carry the weight of all those you have slain. I assume it is true for any sort of warrior class. The weight must be heavy indeed.

    One of the great WW II resistance movies, if you have not seen it, is the Danish Film Flame and Citron, which is somewhat based on the historical Danish Resistance. Highly recommended.

    1. I have seen that film, most excellent indeed.

  6. Caught me up in the net. Good, engaging. I'd wager it's awfully close to reality as well.... Yeah, the whole story is swirling in my mind....

  7. I enjoyed (if that's the word?) the chapter; tho' more than quite amazed that Guillaume held it down for so long.
    The true story of war: how a perfectly normal human being becomes either a psychopath or becomes a soldier doing what is required for survival (or, perhaps a bit of both - and we, in the armchair, wonder: "Why Mỹ Lai?").
    What I find even more interesting is (are?) the lives of the village residents (onlookers).

    1. Those onlookers? We'll be getting to them shortly

  8. Guillaume is a cold-blooded steely-eyed badass. Viva la France indeed.


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