For All Nails #42: Fingernails that Shine Like Justice
By Johnny Pez
Yvette Fanchon was not, to put it mildly, a happy woman. When General von Gellmann had first asked her to accept the post of French Premier, she had considered it her duty to accept. It had taken some time for Yvette to realize that Herr Gellmann had played a particularly cruel joke on her.
Back in the dark days of the First Occupation of 1880, the Germans had installed a French General, Georges Boulanger, to rule France in their name. Boulanger had been deposed in less than a year by Léon Gambetta, but his name had remained synonymous with treason and collaboration ever since. Now it was Yvette Fanchon herself who was being denounced throughout France as a Boulanger.
Did nobody notice that German troop levels were declining? Did nobody care that the unemployment rate was falling? Did anybody actually regret that the routine roundups of suspected subversives had ceased? Apparently not, because all she ever heard was Boulanger, Boulanger, Boulanger!
And within Yvette's mind a small voice asked, Are they right? Her eyes were drawn to the right, where a portrait of her great-grandfather hung from the office wall. It was the portrait by Levesque done just before the Hundred Day War, the one that appeared on the ten-livre note. Marshal Henri Fanchon stared down at his descendant, his expression one of noble resolution. As she had done every day for the last two years, Yvette wondered what he would have done in her place. The France he had come to power in had been disunited but free. She faced the task of ruling a France that was equally disunited, and under foreign domination as well. Would he understand what she had done?
General von Gellmann had promised that once France was peaceful and stable, the Germans would withdraw completely. But how could her country be peaceful when the Germans themselves were the most divisive element in it? Two years before, Yvette had been confident that she could unite the country as the Marshal had done, and lead her people to freedom. Now, despair was becoming her constant companion. She had sworn in her inaugural address to the National Assembly to be a uniter, not a divider. Now she was the most unpopular politician in the country.
She was almost thankful when a knock on her office door interrupted her train of thought. Almost, because people never knocked on her door to bring her good news, only bad. Yvette pressed a foot switch under her desk, and the door swung open to reveal the portly figure of Albert Gitreau, who was her chief lieutenant in the Fanchonist party and held the post of President of the National Assembly. She could tell immediately from his anxious expression that his news was, as she had expected, bad. "What is it, Albert?"
"Word has just come from Bayeux," he said. "A Schupo Oberwachtmeister named Karl-Heinz Schuschnigg has just been assassinated by terrorists."
"Have the assassins been caught?" Yvette asked.
Gitreau lowered his eyes in negation. "They escaped."
"Do you have any idea who was responsible?"
"Nobody has as yet claimed responsibility for the action."
Yvette found herself plunged even deeper into despair. It had been over a year since the last successful attack on a German officer in France. With Lebrun no longer providing covert aid to the resistance, the Germans' relentlessly efficient security people had been able to bring them under control. Now, suddenly, this. And if the Germans overreacted . . .
She snatched up the telephone and said, "Armand, get me General von Gellmann on the line at once!"
After a pause that seemed interminable, Armand came back on the line to say, "The General will be with you momentarily."
Another pause, and the familiar, hateful voice said, "I take it you've just heard the news, Madame Premier."
"I have, Herr General," said Yvette, switching effortlessly to German. "What I need to know is what you intend to do in response."
The voice was hard. "I intend to find those responsible, by any means necessary."
"And what means in particular will you find it necessary to employ for this purpose?" said Yvette levelly.
"That is none of your concern, Fraulein Fanchon."
Now Yvette forgot about Albert, forgot about her despair, even forgot about the portrait on her wall. Staring at the telephone dial as if it were Gellmann himself, she declared, "It is entirely my concern, Herr General. I will have to clean up whatever mess your goons make in the course of their 'investigation' in Bayeux. If you try to turn Bayeux into a prison camp, I will resign immediately. If you think you had a hard time finding a replacement for Lebrun, that is nothing to the difficulty you will face finding a replacement for me."
There was a silence on the telephone that seemed to last an eternity. Finally, Gellmann said, "Very well. What is it you wish?"
Silently exhaling in relief, Yvette said, "There are to be no mass arrests, no violent interrogations, no punishments dealt out to the populace at large. The investigation will be carried out by the Ministry of Justice. If you wish, you may assign a man to serve as liaison with your own office."
Gellmann chuckled then, and said, "Ah, Fraulein Fanchon, and they say you have no sense of humor! Do you really believe that Herr Chaplette's brave men are capable of finding anything other than sources of illicit income?"
"Dodo is your man, not mine," Yvette reminded Gellmann. "If it were up to me, he would be running a pushcart rather than a government ministry."
"Sad, but true," Gellmann conceded. "Alas, we who serve the Empire must take what we can get."
"So," said Yvette, "if not the Ministry of Justice, then who shall conduct this investigation?"
"If we were within the Empire, a crime of this nature would fall under the purview of the Kaiserliche Kriminalpolizei, who would undertake a joint investigation with the relevant local police authorities."
"I see," said Yvette. "Very well, this is my proposal. You will conduct your investigation just as you would within the Inner Reich. All French citizens brought in for questioning will be entitled to due process with all applicable police procedures observed, and the investigation will be conducted jointly with the local authorities in Bayeux. I intend to see to it that justice, and not blind retribution, prevails."
Even though they were half a kilometer apart, Yvette could see the resigned look on Gellmann's face as he said, "Very well, Madame Premier. I will so instruct my men in Bayeux."
"And I will do likewise," said Yvette. "It has been a pleasure speaking with you, Herr General."
"And as always, for me as well," said Gellmann with audible irony before he hung up.
Tapping the receiver on her telephone, she said, "Armand, I want a vita crew in my office ready to broadcast in ten minutes. Call Vitavision Français and tell them to reserve a bloc of time on all channels at --" she glanced at the clock on her desk "-- one o'clock for a government broadcast." Hanging up, she looked up from the telephone to see Gitreau staring at her in astonishment. Before he could say anything, she said, "Albert, call up the news media and tell them to expect a statement from me on national vitavision at one o'clock regarding the Bayeux incident." When he continued to stare at her, she added, "Now!" and had the satisfaction of seeing him scurry out of her office.
As the vitavision crew entered, she began jotting down notes for her speech.
(Forward to FAN #43: Tails and Dogs.)
(Forward to 27 September 1972: On Brittany's Shores.)
(Forward to Yvette Fanchon: Picking Up Slack.)
(Return to For All Nails.)