In a Wine Glass, Darkly
Intrigue and infighting within the tangled
circles of Nazi theology & technology
©2017 by Richard B. Messer
Grandmother Toulouse took the femme’s coats and Menie’s hat, hanging them on a coat tree in the entry hall. Mdm. Bigeard mounted a wooden stairway that curved to a balcony overlooking the hall.
“Oh, and Grandmother? Please take our guests to the atrium, we’ll have lunch there!” The feline called down to all below as she disappeared through a doorway, taking another draw of her cigar.
“Yes, Madame!” The bovine housekeeper called after her mistress before turning back to Rica and Menie. “This way, if you please.”
She led the two passed what would have been the main salon, but the great double doors were drawn shut, and down a hallway that led to an outside door. This gave way to a large, glass-covered conservatory festooned with potted plants and flowers filling a variety of raised beds around the perimeter of the place. In the center of a flagstone floor stood a white, glass-topped wrought iron table, and encircled by cushioned chairs.
The Roe deer and her canine companion wandered among the floral pageantry surrounding the place, marveling at the variety of flowers held there, and taken in by the bouquet that filled the air. Their conversation in regard to the flora drifted in and out of French and German; sometimes Rica would inadvertently utter something in Romani, her grandmother’ tongue. Then she had to back up and say it again in one of the other tongues.
About then the door opened again and a trio of Asian house servants entered the atrium. Both femmes watched as a young male monkey pushed a trolley up to the table as a pair of monkey maids began to unload the dishes and silverware around the glass top. This was followed by platters of bread, cheese, and sliced meats along with a large bowl of salad. When all was ready, the trio bowed to the guests and left with the trolley, not having said a word.
The young cervine blinked and looked to the Brittany. Menie could only shrug as their hostess returned. Mdm. Bigeard had changed out of her blue ensemble into a straight black ankle-length skirt and white blouse that sported a bowtie. She had even brushed the black curls of her bob until they sprang out from her head.
The brown feline smiled broadly at them, the first time since they met. “Ladies, please be seated and let’s eat.”
The doe and hound did not have to be told twice. Rica drew her shawl to her shoulders, then helped herself to the salad, as she was the only one present to do so. She even took a slice of bread and a bite of cheese. The others made sandwiches. The feline femme lifted a tea pot.
Her guests held out their cups to be filled. The small cervine noted that it was green. She looked with a questioning glance to Mdm. Bigeard.
“Green tea from Indochina,” she said, picking up her own cup to sip. “Far better than that foul black stuff the English quaff.”
Rica merely nodded and took her own sip. The French woman was correct, it was far better than English tea.
When the meal was over the trio of house servants arrived on cue without being called. They cleared the luncheon debris onto the cart and wheeled it away, leaving the tea service. The male asked something in an Asian tongue that neither Rica nor Menie couldn’t place. The feline replied in kind and the monkey bowed out of the atrium.
The Roe deer femme looked to their hostess. “What language was that, if I may ask?”
Setting her cup down onto its saucer the brown-furred femme answered, “That was Vietnamese, and a common enough tongue in what is regarded today as French Indochina.”
The Brittany femme cocked her head. “And you are Vietnamese as well?”
Mdm. Bigeard smiled. “In answer to your next questions: My grandmother was the daughter of a Chinese merchant in Hanoi, and my grandfather was a Senegalese legionnaire who was stationed there. Thus I’m part Chinese, part African, and totally Vietnamese.”
Her guests looked to one another again before Menie spoke up. “And that was how you met your husband, the capitaine?”
“Oui. He had arrived in my country over fifteen years ago, but only knew me in the last two years of his service there. He courted me during that time before I consented to be his bride. It is not uncommon for Legionnaires to wed women from other countries as they are expected to remain at their stations in those countries.
“But as Capitaine Bigeard was from a minor noble house here in France, and certain circumstances arose, that I should stay here for some time and learn what is expected of a French noblewoman, and wife, in regard to social standing and etiquette. And to get me safely out of country as troubles with local warlords and vicious gangs were on the rise again. Most likely stirred up by communists out of China.”
Rica Mader digested this bit of news, then centered her attention on something that was stated to her on their ride to the manse.
“On our way here, you called me ‘sister’, and knew everything about my involvement with the Vril Society. How did you know?”
Their hostess took a sip from her cup before setting it down once again. Then resting her elbows on the edge of the glass tabletop, she steepled her slender fingers before her and looked to the doe over them.
“I called you ‘sister’ because we are of a like profession. We are diviners, mediums if you will, and use our skills to make a living, though my means is not as necessary for earning my daily bread, such as yourself.
“There is a small group of us that call ourselves the ‘Daughters of Isis’. We’ve met through our contacts within ‘the spirit world’, and over time we eventually contacted each other in person. At the moment there are only seven of us within this group here in Strasburg, and we meet three times a month for dinner and cards, followed by a session of greater importance.”
“How do you mean?” Menie DuMond was leaning forward in her chair, her interest piqued.
Those large brown cat’s eyes swiveled towards her. “My true name is Tainkong Shanlao, and I am a special section chief for the Sûreté Générale.”
The cup slipped from the hunter’s fingers unto its saucer, making a loud clatter. Rica jumped at the sound.
“The Sûreté Générale?” repeated Menie in a hushed tone.
The Sûreté Générale was the French national police that delved into espionage as well. Little was known about this side of the police force among the population. All they know is that the Sûreté dealt with murderers, racketeers, counterfeiters and the like across the country while the local gendarmerie looked after local criminal matters.
The cervine femme mouthed the title to herself, and arrived at something similar to the Gestapo. She asked as much. This caused their hostess to drop her hands to the tabletop, throw back her head and give a heartfelt laugh, causing her black curls to dance. Her guests threw nervous looks to each other before the feline caught ahold of herself as the laughter died out. There came an anxious query from Grandmother Toulouse who had stepped in at the outburst, wringing her hands.
“Nothing to worry about, my dear Grandmother! Just a joke that struck me funny!”
Cocking an eyebrow in confusion, the bovine house keeper left. In the pause that followed, Mdm Bigeard – Tainkong Shanlao – eased herself into a small bout of giggles as she refilled everyone’s cup, then called out in Vietnamese for a fresh pot.
“Have no fear, my friends, I am not going to have you arrested and carried away to a secret location to have any information deemed valuable beaten out of you. That is the realm of the Gestapo, and we have a very clear understanding of their operations within those borders.”
Tainkong Shanlao drained her cup as one of the monkey femmes entered with a fresh pot that she exchanged for the empty one. The two femmes nodded to one another before the maid bowed out and left. After the cups were refilled that the feline continued her explanation.
“Please, understand what I am about to say to you two, so that there is no misunderstanding between us, and that your safety is of utmost importance at this time.”
The Brittany was about to speak, but held her tongue when a slender brown hand came up to halt her enquiry.
“My husband knew of my ‘unique’gifts’, as I made a side living reading fortunes and divining the future for the locals in that part of Hanoi where the regiment was posted. My father, being a widower, only had me to help with his business as my mother had passed away while I was in my early teens. Over time I knew how to handle the money, stock the shelves, and the order the supplies for his store.
“But in that time I began to feel something else was different about me, other than growing into my puberty. Sometimes when a customer had paid for their purchases, I would blurt out some random observance to them before they left. This left them confused and worried that I may have been touched in the head. But over time these people would be amazed at the revelation of my observations and would ask for anything else that might, or might not, occur to them the next time they came into the store.
“Soon word got around about this unique gift that my father’s store would become crowded with fortune seekers. Of course this angered him at first, until he learned of the accuracy of my fortune telling. Seeing an opportunity to make more money – after all, he was a merchant – and further the fortunes of his name, he purchased a small storefront next to his and set me up as a diviner and teller of the future.”
Tainkong Shanlao paused to sip her tea, her guests sitting on the edges of their chairs.
“Soon, some criminal elements tried to move into the neighborhood and extort my father for a sizable profit from both his mercantile business and my fortune telling. It was during one of these confrontations that Capitaine Bigeard was passing through the neighborhood during one of his days off from his company. He heard the commotion in my father’s store and rushed in, his sidearm drawn. He held the criminals at gunpoint until a Legionnaire patrol was summoned and the miscreants taken away. Afterwards my father thanked him profusely for saving his store and his daughter’s reputation. And that was when I first fell in love!”
A pink blush glowed within the brown-furred feline’s ears. This caused the cervine to smile.
‘Love at first sight?” she murmured behind her own tea cup.
Her hostess dipped her head in embarrassment, but smiled at the compliment.
“Oui, and I believe he felt the same at that moment. He is a tall, tawny fellow, with a handsome face and a keen mind, resplendent in his red and blue walking-out uniform, the scabbarded bayonet belted to his waist over the red sash. And I think my father recognized at that moment he may be losing a valuable asset to his business. But he accepted the fact, since I was in my early twenties at that time.
“Anyway, after a two-year courtship, we were married in a Catholic ceremony. The local priest insisted that I convert to Catholicism in order to make the wedding ‘proper’. So I endured those obnoxious classes until the priest felt satisfied that I would make a proper wife for, how did he say it?” Tainkong Shanlao looked thoughtful for a moment, staring up at the darkening skies through the glass overhead. Then she sat up and smiled. “Oh, a proper wife for ‘A Defender of the Third Republic!’”
That elicited another guffaw of laughter from the feline femme that drew her guests into joining her. When the laughing settled away, she wiped tears from her eyes and smiled to the others.
“But we were happy for the event, and the Legion accepted me as one of their own now, though some of the French wives there still looked down their collective noses at me. But I didn’t care. For about a year I stayed with my father, helping out with his mercantile business while continuing my fortune telling side, until one day Emile, my husband, came and said that there were some government people that wanted to speak with me.
“At the Legion headquarters there were some men who were from the Sûreté Générale. It seemed that through military and diplomatic channels they had learned of me and my ‘gifts’. They questioned me at length about how my divination worked, what means I used, and how accurate my readings were. Afterwards they spoke with Emile, then paid a visit to my father and questioned him about my side of his business.”
The tall dark-furred femme paused to sip her tea.
“It was days later that they called my husband and me into the company commander’s office and made their proposal. It was for me to return to France with them and be installed in my husband’s family estate here in Strasburg where I would play the part of a respectable nobleman’s wife, with all the amenities pertaining to such, but with the understanding that I would be working for them behind the scenes, as it were. And that was over two years ago.
“The ‘deal’ was to use my gifts of divination to spy on what was happening in Germany. Certain members within Parliament felt something should be done to discover what was going on within specific circles of the Third Reich, and that I would have available other diviners and mediums to aid in my ‘spying’. When I met these six other femmes, it was clear that they, too, were chosen for their skills and abilities as well. In a short time we got to know each other and a bond of friendship formed within our little group.
“About three times a month we would gather here, in this atrium, to combine our skills and seek beyond the physical boundaries of nation and countryside as to what was occurring ‘over there’.” The feline inclined her head towards the frontier.
Taking a sip of tea to soothe a throat gone dry, Rica Mader set her cup down. “And that was how you learned of me.” It was more a statement that a question.
The Vietnamese femme nodded as her right hand reached, by habit, for the ashtray that wasn’t there. She covered this with reaching for the tea pot instead. She held it up for the others, but they declined. Setting the pot back down Tainkong Shanlao then reached up to scratch at her black curls as a distant grumble of thunder sounded in the distance while the first patter of rain struck the glass panes overhead.
“But the rest will be revealed to the both of you tonight, when my associates arrive for dinner and cards. This meeting was called for a specific reason and you two are the center pieces of it.”
Then she stood. “Rooms have been prepared for your stay overnight. And if you need a manner of evening wear for dinner, Grandmother Toulouse will arrange something appropriate. Now, I trust you two are still tired from your journey here, oui? I’ll see that you both are allowed to rest in your rooms until such time as is needed to change for dinner.”