When Robert Cooper first sees Nathalie Renard, he finds himself drawn to her. She seems ethereal, magical. And when he finally meets her, he finds her even more beguiling.
But Robert has a job to do, and Nathalie seems the best candidate from the Paris Telephone Exchange to hire as a translator.
As the Allied governments move forward with their plan to put the surviving Nazis on trial, however, Nathalie's view of justice begins to worry Robert. Can he trust her to do the job? Or is her reason for taking it in the first place darker than he imagines?
I went to Nuremberg to research "Show Trial." The story's set during the Nuremberg Trials of the Nazis after World War II, conducted by the Allies. So many firsts at those trials including the first simultaneous translation, and the first effective international court of justice. Hard to believe the people in charge were developing it on the fly. And there were a lot of folks who didn't believe the Nazi evil even deserved justice. I stood in the main trial room and marveled at how such a mundane space could be the center of such an important part of world history. And it made me wonder what justice really was. But while I was contemplating justice, I also realized just how terrifying those days must have actually been. – Kristine Kathryn Rusch
"Rusch excels at the novella length and this is no exception. The genre element is in many ways a small part of this story. It is more a viewing of a very important time in world history, with fantastic overtones. It questions whether the lawful method of jurisprudence is either hopeful or self-serving."– Tangent Online on Show Trial
"Intense, morally ambiguous, and really cool. Check it out!"– Michele Lang, author of Lady Lazarus
"Deeply evocative, it breathes menace from every page and memorably conveys what Rusch calls the 'casual evil' that suffused Germany as the Nazis came to power."– The Daily Mail (London) on Hitler’s Angel
Later he poured over old newspapers, Life and Time magazines, and the newsreel footage kept by the War Department, looking for her, even though someone told him she couldn't be photographed. Still, he thought he saw her in at least two of the attempted Hitler assassination sites—as part of the 1939 crowd in the Munich Burgerbraukeller, and bringing coffee to the men at the 1944 Wolf's Lair meeting. Sometimes he saw a swirl of light, and thought he caught a glimpse of her inside it—just a bit of black hair, a touch of skirt.
He told them to watch out for her in Nuremberg for the remaining trials, but of course, she never appeared there again.
She should never have appeared there at all.
He first met her in Paris, August, 1945. He had no way to describe how he felt then. "World-weary" was too weak a term, "depressed" too passive, and "defeated" put him on the wrong side. From the outside, he looked the same as he always had: Lieutenant Robert Parker in full dress uniform, square shoulders, square jawed, handsome in an All-American sort of way.
When he enlisted, his mother had brushed off those shoulders, tears in her eyes, saying, You look so grown-up, forgetting that he had already grown-up—a full-fledged college professor with a newly minted PhD. Twenty-seven years old, unmarried to his mother's chagrin, oldest of seven children—five of them boys. He looked so grown-up then, and he had felt so grown-up, but he hadn't known grown-up.
Some people never knew grown-up. They went through life doing what they were supposed to, getting married, raising children, contributing to their communities. They never shot at anyone at close range, had a friend bleed out beneath their helpless hands, or march into hell to save hundreds of skeletons standing next to piles of stinking corpses.
Some people never understood the dark side of life, and he wasn't going to teach them. But he wasn't sure how he would return to the lighter side or if he even could. Laughing surprised him and, oddly, Paris offended him.
It was so perfect—still the city he had seen in college. Sure, some windows were shattered, stoops broken, signs missing or torn down. The population was thinner, the clothing styles similar to the ones he'd seen nearly a decade before. But the city itself had no rubble, no stray dogs digging up rotted limbs from bomb craters, no children playing in the remains of houses. Even the food seemed good compared with the rest of Europe, although he really wasn't one to judge. He'd been in Germany since January, and Germany was one gigantic bomb crater.
As it should be.
He didn't want Paris to be destroyed. He had loved the city, back when he had been the kind of man who could love something. But he felt that Paris should have paid a price for her collaboration, for all the people it had sent to the camps, people whom he had seen either standing listlessly near a gate or stacked like cordwood outside so-called barracks.
He would never shake those days from his mind, never, and he couldn't talk about them either. Sometimes he imagined sitting at his mother's pristine dining room table as she placed the Thanksgiving turkey in the middle like something out of the Saturday Evening Post, his siblings and their spouses clutching the good silver around the even better china, waiting for the feast.
What did you do during the war, Robert? someone would ask politely, and he would say, he would say—
I learned that sometimes you saw so much it leached the empathy from you, so much that all you could do was turn away, and wonder what kind of monster would do this. And then I realized I had met the monsters that ordered this, talked with them, laughed with a few of them, and they hadn't seemed like monsters at all. You'd think their eyes would be different, their lips would curl upwards revealing fangs. You'd think they would smell of death, but they were often perfumed, rich, charming. It was their victims that smelled of death.
Surprisingly, to him, Paris made these thoughts worse. As he walked down the Champs-Elysée, he would see—in his mind's eye—the Nazis marching through, just as he had seen in the newsreels, the Nazi flag hanging from the Arc de Triomphe, the German soldiers leaning against the Eiffel Tower as if they had built it themselves.
And now that he was here, in a city where the Germans had been vanquished almost a year ago, a city that was quiet and lovely and seemed so very civilized, he felt angrier than he ever had. It was as if the city had taken his numbness and turned it inside out, revealing it for the cocoon it had been.
He wasn't guarded any more.
He didn't need to be. He had been on the winning side, after all.
The winning side.
As if anyone had won.
He hadn't expected Paris to be hot in August, but it was. Before the war, he had come to Paris in the fall because his professors had warned him to stay away in the summer—not because of the heat, but because the French took the month of August off. He wondered if they had done that during the war. The famously rigid Germans probably had not allowed it.
So this August, the city's emptiness should have been profound. But it was not. On his first free day, he took his lunch in the Tuileries garden and watched children play. Mothers, nannies, he couldn't tell which, supervising and laughing as if they didn't have a care in the world.
Old men lounged on benches near the Louvre, and somewhere in the back, the screech of a Punch and Judy show went on as if it had never been silenced. He had bought himself a ham sandwich which in Paris wasn't two thin slices of white bread over processed meat, but a baguette with rich butter, a thick slab of cheese, and cured meat that had more flavor than anything he'd ever had back home—anything he'd had, truly, since the war began.
Still, he couldn't eat. He looked at the beautiful garden, which had been one of Paris's treasures since Louis XIV's gardener laid it out in the early 1700s, and thought how the beautiful historic gardens of London had burned or still had unexploded bombs in the middle of them. He didn't see the beauty of the Tuileries—he couldn't see the beauty—because he knew it had been built on a betrayal so profound that he wasn't sure he would ever be able to forgive this city he had once loved. Even though she still looked like herself. Even though everything he loved about her remained—except, perhaps, her soul.
At that moment, he saw her coming out of the Metro, and for a moment, he thought she was a human manifestation of the city itself. Tall, thin and oh-so-French. Her tan skirt was a bit frayed, but it still flared around stunning legs. Her shoes were scuffed, but the heels showed off her ankles. Her blouse was a starched pale pink which accented her slightly dusky skin. Her shoulder-length black hair swayed as she walked.
She was no different than the other women leaving the Metro, heading toward the Louvre on their lunch break, and yet she was. Because behind those fine cheekbones, behind the half-smile on her lips, was a light that he had never seen before. It was as if she had swallowed a bit of the sun, and its rays emanated through her pores.
He had never seen anyone so beautiful, so ethereal, and yet so practical and solid. Like the city herself, stunning and down-to-earth all at the same time.
He was on his feet before he realized it—standing, about to cross the garden—when he couldn't see her any longer. She had been there, and then she was gone as if she had never been.
He turned toward the old men, dozing in the hot noontime sun, but clearly none of them had seen her. He looked up and down the rue di Rivoli, but he didn't see her.
He knew that people vanished like that all the time. You took your eye off them for a single moment, and they turned a corner or ducked into a shop, and you never saw them again.
But he hadn't taken his eyes off her. He had been watching her, studying her if truth be told, trying to memorize her, and she had winked away as if someone had turned out her inner light.
The incident left him a little shaken; he was more tired than he thought possible. He sat back down, opened the butcher paper surrounding his sandwich and ate it slowly, savoring every bite.
He had promised himself, after the horror of the camps, that he would enjoy each moment of his life, but he had broken that promise as the Army Jeep drove him away. He hadn't enjoyed a single moment—he wasn't sure if he still could.
But he would try.
He was in Paris. It was beautiful, and he would try.