MAZURKA, the fourth book in the Gus LeGarde series, is now available.
Mazurka marches forward with a solid story that beats with passion!
- Joyce Handzo, In The Library Reviews.
"I could feel the texture as a French loaf was torn apart, and taste the crumbs on my tongue. I could see the flowers and hear the birds. And in a heartbeat, I was part of the confusion and fear all around as events transformed LeGarde’s beautiful haven to a terror zone."
- Sheila Deeth, book reviewer.
"Fearing every shadow, every face encountered, the reader experiences exhilaration, trepidation, fear and horror in the masterfully suspenseful tale Aaron Lazar weaves. I felt as though I was there in the Catacombs, one of my favorite sections of this wonderfully written book. Lazar places the reader smack in the middle of the setting."
- Kim Smith, author of Avenging Angel and A Will to Live.
When Siegfried receives a puzzling invitation to visit an ailing relative in Germany on the eve of Gus and Camille’s wedding, their honeymoon plans change. Siegfried – Gus’s socially challenged brother-in-law – can’t travel alone, so they gather the gentle giant under their wings and fly to Paris.
After luscious hours in the city of lights, a twist of fate propels them into a deadly web of neo-Nazis. A bloody brawl on the Champs Élysées thrusts Siegfried and Gus into the news, where a flawed report casts Siegfried as the Nazi leader’s murderer, sealing his death warrant.
While Siegfried recovers in a Parisian hospital, Nazi terrorists stalk Gus and Camille. Hunted and left for dead in the underground Parisian Catacombs among millions of Frenchmen’s bones, they barely escape.
Siegfried is moved to safety at his aunt’s in Denkendorf, where he learns a shocking family secret about Chopin’s steamy past. The calm is soon shattered, when the threesome is plunged into a cat-and-mouse game where the stakes are lethal and the future of Europe hangs in the balance.
“What’s next?” I asked.
Camille bit her lower lip and reached into her pants pocket. Her chestnut curls blew around her face in the faint breeze that had just begun to cool the air. Smiling, she brandished a long list and looked at us with a mischievous expression.
“Shopping,” she said. The light dancing in her eyes was nearly reverent.
Siegfried and I exchanged eye-rolling glances. Although we both enjoyed poking around a shop or two, neither of us was a match for my sweet shopaholic wife.
She laughed with a musical, tinkling sound.
“Come on, men. Where’s your stamina? We’re in Paris! Everyone shops on the Avenue des Champs Élysées. And I really need a new little black dress.”
The thought of my wife in such an outfit spurred me on. We took the Metro orange line of to the Champs Élysées/Clemenceau stop, surfaced to a crowded avenue, and browsed through a few shops. After an hour of buying, Camille dropped us at a roadside café and continued down the road in search of the elusive bargain and the perfect dress.
Siegfried ordered orangeade and a pastry, and I lemonade. We sat at a small metal table, sipping our drinks with our legs stretched out on the cobblestones. The bottoms of my feet throbbed from all the walking. I nearly took off my shoes, but realized the odor would probably make the crowds part like the Red Sea.
A speckled brown-and-white bird hopped toward us, cocking his head in our direction. Siegfried pulled off a piece of his flaky pastry and tossed it to the bird. The tiny critter pecked at the flake until it was gone, and looked up for more. Siegfried laughed out loud and tossed another crumb.
I had just decided that I should have worn sneakers instead of my leather shoes, when a CNN news van pulled up beside the café. The bird flew away when the side door slid open. The crew emerged and began to set up on the sidewalk.
The sound of beating drums throbbed from the direction of L’Arc de Triomphe. I craned around to see. Blue lights flashed in the distance, and it seemed a police procession was queuing in the distance at end of the avenue.
“What is it?” Siegfried asked with a frown. His vivid blue eyes darted with apprehension. “I have a bad feeling, Professor.”
Siegfried’s intuitive feelings often portended serious trouble for us. Before I could answer, however, a stylish gray-haired man in his sixties started to speak before the CNN camera. He stood close to our table and spoke in a clipped, British accent.
“Controversial demonstrations, challenged vigorously in Germany, are now infiltrating the City of Lights. In just a few moments, this belligerent group of neo-Nazis, who call themselves the New World Delegates, will pass us, led by the infamous Kirk Müller.
“The man who preaches violence as a solution to world order has been harassed in his own country. In response, he’s descended on neighboring countries, trolling for new converts who thrive on hate and intolerance. Mr. Müller promotes the advancement of the white race and has been quoting liberally from Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Previously recognized for isolated incidents of violence, the New World Delegates organization has recently expanded and gained power. Since the arrival of Mr. Müller, it has incorporated a number of small, elitist parties within its ranks. There is fear that his burgeoning group will become a legitimate German political party in the months to come.”
We watched the swelling noisy crowd and the approaching police brigade. Officers began to line the streets at discreet intervals. Several shoppers stopped in their tracks, stared in disbelief, and retreated into the sanctuary of the stores.
“What is it, Professor? Was hat er gesagt? (What did he say?)”
I looked at my friend and sighed. “It’s a demonstration, a kind of parade. But it’s not for fun. There are a lot of angry people who are marching. They’re the kind who killed your mother’s family, Sig.”
I spoke carefully, quietly. I feared upsetting my gentle friend, but wanted to warn him at the same time. His eyes widened in alarm.
“Nazis?” he asked with a haunted rush of breath.
“Let’s see if we can go inside. It might be safer there,” I suggested.
Siegfried stared down the street toward the surging mob. We rose to head indoors, but were met with doors slammed shut, locks snapped, and shades yanked down.
I rapped on a few doors, but was ignored. Unsettled, I turned back to watch the loud procession surging in our direction. I scanned the streets for Camille, but didn’t see her. A nervous chill chased along my spine.
Shouts of “Heil Hitler!” and “Heil Müller!” rang in the air. The blood drained from Siegfried’s face and his lips compressed as he stood with eyes fixed on the mass of demonstrators. As the horrific words echoed along the Champs Élysées, a stone cold sensation settled in the pit of my stomach. I felt sick, nauseated, and surreal. We backed up to the building, close to the news crew.
The reporter shouted into his microphone as the clamor in the street reached a new crescendo, punctuated with raucous shouts and hate-filled slogans.
“Heil Hitler! Heil Müller!”
“As you can see, the demonstrators are wearing jackboots and leather bomber jackets, banned in Germany due to the Nazi connotation. The marchers are also upset at the recent crackdown on so-called “hate” websites. Under mounting international pressure, a growing number of Internet providers have refused to host the website of this particular group.”
The satanic parade surged closer. Most had shaved heads, an abundance of piercings, and swastikas tattooed on their bodies. Some wore camouflage uniforms, as if ready to skirmish. I didn’t see any weapons, but their war-like attitude chilled my blood. Angrily, they waved red and black swastika signboards at the crowds, who jeered from the sidewalks. Tension built, and the police nervously intervened as bystanders threw stones and ridiculed the marchers.
Protecting their right to demonstrate, I thought. Is this what we’ve come to? Allowing murderers to troll for converts in the streets of Paris?
Siegfried stood with his back to the granite façade of a building. Fear etched his face.
The reporter shouted and gestured toward the mass of obscene crusaders.
“Here comes Mr. Müller now, riding in a black Jeep. He can be recognized by his shaved head and trademark long braided beard. Müller is reported to have amassed millions of dollars in support, from undisclosed sources. He appears to be stopping directly in front of us.”
Müller emerged from the vehicle and jumped onto its hood, keenly aware of the cameras turning in his direction. He wore black jeans, tall boots, a leather jacket, and a red and black tee shirt. Preening, he sized up the crowd and spoke in a forceful, persuasive tone, his long braided beard swaying back and forth as he shouted. Swiveling to address both sides of the street, he shouted first in French, English, and finally in German. His gray hooded eyes glistened and he beckoned the pedestrians who remained on the sidewalks.
“Friends and neighbors! It’s time to support our cherished heritage and fight the enemy. The filthy immigrants and corrupt Jews who still plague this continent will destroy us, if we don’t eliminate them. Come. Join us. We will protect you from the evil diluting your pure heritage. Join us!”
Several of Müller’s deputies worked the crowded sidewalk, handing flyers to those who would accept them. A pale-eyed youth marched up to Siegfried and shoved a flyer at his chest. I recognized him as the boy from the airplane and the Notre Dame stairwell. When he saw me, steel shot from his eyes.
Siegfried’s face darkened. He pushed him away, bellowing, “Nein! Go away!”
The youth pushed back, and the cameras turned to follow the action. Müller jumped down from his perch to investigate. Several policemen started to approach the scene, but Müller waved them away.
“There’s no problem here, officers. Pas de problems. Let me handle this.”
Müller strode toward Siegfried. Because Siegfried dwarfed him in height, he leapt onto a nearby café chair and leaned into his face.
“Come now, my friend. There’s no trouble here. You’re German, aren’t you? With that fine yellow hair and those blue eyes? Wouldn’t you like to see your children’s future safe and secure from the infidel Jews? Come, join us, friend. We need people like you. Fighters!”
Müller’s lackeys formed a circle around us. He turned to look at the camera and smiled with greasy confidence. Siegfried erupted, eyes blazing.
“Nein! You are evil! My grandparents were murdered by Nazis! You killed my family!”
Müller looked shocked, and shook his head in disbelief. He put an arm around Siegfried’s shoulder, grinned at the camera, and said, “No way, man... We only killed the Jews.”
Siegfried grabbed Müller’s biceps, shaking him violently.
“Meine— Mutter— war— jüdisch. (My mother was Jewish) Ihre Familie ist in Buchenwald gestorben! (Her family died in Buchenwald)”
Angered that his ploy for airtime backfired, Müller turned from Siegfried and leapt onto the sidewalk. He pretended to turn away, but instead swiveled and delivered a flying kick in Siegfried’s direction.
Siegfried sidestepped and crouched into a fighting position as I spun to help him. The crushing blow missed Siegfried, but caught me just below the kidneys. It knocked the air out of my lungs and I doubled over in pain.
The crowd howled as several more fights broke out. Windows opened overhead; their residents emitted yells of defiance and threw cans and garbage into the mass of demonstrators. Bottles flew threw the air, bystanders jumped into the fray, and screams erupted from both sides. The police scattered to cover dozens of brawls that erupted along the street.
Siegfried stared at me in horror as I bent over, struggling to catch my breath. He roared at Müller, knocking him to the ground. Both men rolled on the sidewalk and finally into the street. Müller’s lackeys formed a partial barrier around them, screaming words of encouragement to their leader.
I hobbled after them, shouting, “Stop! No!”
Müller was surprisingly tough for a small man. He lay atop Siegfried and grabbed fistfuls of his long hair with both hands. I pushed through Müller’s men as he brutally pounded Siegfried’s head against the pavement. Siegfried lay still, momentarily disoriented.
Grinning viciously, Müller pulled a knife from his boot. Just as he raised the knife high above Siegfried’s chest, I broke through the human barrier and leapt toward him. Müller glanced at me in surprise. I grabbed his wrist, twisted it hard, and kneed him in the ribs. The knife clattered to the asphalt. Two of Müller’s thugs grabbed me from behind when I had partially dragged Müller off Siegfried. Scrabbling for Müller’s oily braided beard, I wound my hands around it and pulled. He howled in pain and tumbled from Siegfried. I hung onto it as they dragged me away, towing Müller behind us until one of them finally hacked at my arm until I let go of his hairy appendage.
Siegfried sat up halfway, rubbed the back of his head, and kicked the knife into the gutter. I tried to catch his eye, but the two goons dragged me backward, spewed words of hate in my face, and slammed me against the side of the news van.
I saw stars. The world dimmed. Sliding to my knees, my brain shouted at me.
Lurching to my feet, I shook my head to clear it, and started back through the fray. Two policemen tried to break through the barrier, but were knocked to the ground and buried in the melée, pinned under six of Müller’s men.
The camera crew followed Müller and Siegfried into the street. A throng of demonstrators gathered, shouting threats at Siegfried. Blood drained from my face as I listened in disbelief.
“Töten Sie den Juden! Kill the Jew! Töten Sie den Juden!”
In spite of his Germanic appearance, my half-Jewish brother-in-law was a poster boy for their hatred, the perfect example of the dilution of the race.
He battled Müller with renewed fury. They rolled over and over, each struggling to gain control. Greasy oil stained their clothes, and blood smeared Siegfried’s jaw. I pushed through the crowd to get to them, but two hoodlums held me back.
“Let him go! Stop! Get off him!” I screamed as I leapt and struggled against the arms that restrained me.
The driver of Müller’s Jeep jumped from the vehicle and drew a gun, aiming it at Siegfried’s back. As he fingered the trigger, Siegfried gained control and flipped Müller over. Müller bucked and thrust Siegfried off. They grappled again, rolling over and over, ending in the gutter. I surged forward, shouting a warning to Siegfried. The shooter swung his gun nervously back and forth, trying to hit the moving target.
“Sig! Watch out!” I yelled.
He squeezed the trigger. The report was louder than I’d imagined, echoing through my bones and slamming against my eardrums. Horrified, I gaped at Siegfried and Müller. They both lay unmoving in the street. My heart hammered staccato in my throat and the world spun and blurred.
My God. Siegfried.
Siegfried lay beneath Müller, his face a frozen mask. A puddle of blood leaked out and began to pool on the ground.
I feared the worst. My throat tightened and I tasted bile. My captors dropped their hold on me as they stood with jaws dropped open.
Slowly, my giant friend opened his eyes and looked at the body sprawled on top of him. Anger flared in his face. He pushed Müller off and tried to stand. I squeezed through the temporarily subdued crowd to help him.
Someone screamed, “Müller ist Tot!” (Müller is dead)
The cry rang out, reverberating over the packed boulevard and was repeated over and over again as the word spread. A policeman finally made his way through the thronging mass. He took Siegfried by the arm and spoke rapidly to him in French, trying to usher him away.
Three skinheads jumped them. Two more roared at me, brandishing tire irons and heavy sticks they’d pulled from the back of the Jeep. A CNN cameraman and the gray-haired announcer abandoned their posts and tried to intervene. I landed two punches and was immediately smashed in the knees. One Nazi held me, while the other swung at me. I fell forward onto the street, smelling gasoline and the metallic odor of my own blood.
Siegfried cried out in pain. I forced myself to get up. A dozen more police officers arrived and tried to break up the brawl. I wove through them to pull a stocky man from Siegfried’s back. Whirling him around, I slammed him into a gaslight pole. He crumpled to the ground. I swiveled back around, breathing hard. Siegfried lay unconscious on the ground. Blood oozed from several stab wounds. His jaw was swollen and bloody. I raced to his side, only to be pulled off by an officer.
“No!” I shouted, “He’s my friend.”
He understood and let me go. I knelt beside Siegfried on the hot dirty street, pressing my fingers deep into his wrist, feeling for a pulse. An ambulance siren shrieked in the distance. A group of officers surrounded us in a protective circle.
When the ambulance arrived, an attendant lifted Siegfried onto a stretcher and rolled it into the back of the stifling vehicle. Someone shoved me inside and slammed the double doors. I scrambled behind them, as hoards of demonstrators crashed against the windows, rocking the truck and hurling curses at us. We pulled out of the Champs Élysées and headed for the Hôpital Americain de Paris in Neuilly, with the undulating wail of the siren blasting through the streets.
On Sunday evening, the night before Camille and I were to leave for Vienna, I sat alone with Siegfried in his room. He’d graduated to the wheelchair and rested quietly in his white cotton pajamas. His size-fourteen feet nestled in the slippers I’d given him for Christmas twelve years ago. Pilled and shapeless, they barely held together, but he loved them. His flaxen hair hung loosely on his shoulders, freshly washed and dried, courtesy of Hilde.
The bandage that had been wrapped around his head was reduced to a smaller plaster over his right eye. His jaw, though significantly less swollen, still shone indigo and yellow. He looked toward the door, expectantly.
“It’s your turn, buddy,” I said.
He turned to me, smiled an apology, and picked a card from the pile on the table. He looked at it absentmindedly, then slid it into the huge pack of cards fanning out in his hands.
“Don’t forget to discard,” I prodded gently.
He looked toward the door once again and nodded without discarding.
“Sig?” I asked. “Are you expecting someone?”
He flushed and came back to Earth.
“Ja. Es tut mir leid. (Sorry) I thought that Hilde — that she would come to say goodnight,” he murmured.
Pangs of love rolled over his face like swelling and retreating surf on a golden beach. He exhaled a deep sigh and lowered his shoulders an inch.
My friend was suffering, and I was helpless.
“You think she’s nice, don’t you?” I asked carefully.
He nodded, looking down at his hands.
“She is…” his face almost crumpled as he struggled to get the words out. “She is... most wonderful. It is the first time I have felt... I feel...”
I tried to help him.
“You care for her deeply, don’t you?”
He looked at me gratefully and nodded twice. A drop formed in his right eye and ran down his face. He brushed it away and choked out the next sentence.
“I do not think she feels as I do. I am afraid it will not work between us.”
I laid my hand on his.
“I know she’s fond of you, Sig. But the distance would be a problem, wouldn’t it? She’s German, and you’ll return to East Goodland soon. Maybe that’s it, huh? She can’t let herself feel for you, or one of you would have to give up your family. Either way, it would be a tough situation.”
He looked at me hopefully.
“Ja? You think that’s it? It’s not that I am... that I do not..”
I shook my head with assurance.
“Absolutely not. I’m sure that if you both lived in New York, it would have worked out just fine. Any woman would be lucky to find a catch like you, my friend. You’re one in a million, Sig, one in a million.”
Siegfried sighed again, checked the door again, then looked down at the cards in his hands.
“Okay,” he said, seeming to accept my theory.
As if struck by a sudden thought, he sat up straight and began to rearrange his cards. After a few seconds, he slapped down eight pairs and one straight flush.
“Gin,” he said. “I win.”
I snorted a laugh and folded my deck. A sense of relief washed over me.
He’s gonna be just fine.
The heart-wrenching, sweet strains of “Una furtiva lagrima” resonated from the corner of the room. Sitting on the piano bench, I turned to see Luciano Pavarotti singing the purest, most plaintively beautiful melody ever written, from Donizetti’s opera, L’Elisir d’amore. A crowd of admirers listened in the salon, waving their oversized white handkerchiefs in time to the music. They swayed back and forth on walnut rosette chairs, perching on lavender velvet seats.
The guests were fashionably dressed in long black frock coats, crisp white blouses, and colorful silk cravats. I knew they were all there— Liszt, Mendelssohn, Rossini, Schubert, Schumann, Berlioz and Wagner— all of Chopin’s musical contemporaries with whom he had either socialized or corresponded in Paris.
I swiveled around, searching for Chopin, and caught my reflection in the mirror. My rather innocuous proboscis had been transfigured into a prominent patrician nose; my black wavy hair had grown long and wheat-colored. It rippled in the light of the flickering candelabra.
I sat on the hard wooden seat and stared into the mirror at the reflection of Frederic Chopin. I looked down. Slim fingers that were not my own flew over the keyboard as I accompanied Luciano in his aria. Without warning, I began to weave a clever impromptu variation on the theme that built until it was so beautiful, even Pavarotti stopped singing and listened in open-mouthed amazement at the gorgeous, complex melodies rising from the keyboard.
Gentle fingers kneaded my shoulders as I played. I realized it must be Etta, my savior, the angel who rescued me from the schizophrenic depths of despair in the spring of 1831. I felt her hair whisper against my cheeks and her soft lips move against my ear. Her satin gown rustled as she stood behind me. Somehow, I knew it was a deep, ocean blue reaching to the floor over layers of pure white petticoats. She continued to rub my shoulders and I played until smoke spiraled from the smooth ivory keys.
Surprised, my fingers froze. I sat in the perfumed mist swirling about the room. A large, black raven fluttered in through the open window and settled on the bench beside me. His lustrous feathers looked soft and thick, and his eyes shone with intelligence far beyond that of a common, earthly bird. His beak moved out of synchronization with his voice.
“What kind of a honeymoon is this, anyway?” he squawked.
The images dissolved when I woke in the dark room. Camille lay beside me, her sweetly scented hair gleaming inches from my face. The headache was gone. I chuckled, amused at my bizarre dream. Feeling ravenous, I slipped out of bed and opened the mini bar door. A sliver of light spilled into the room as I rummaged around inside. Camille stirred lightly, but didn’t waken. The paper sack with Eberhardt’s sandwiches lay beneath a box of Neapolitan cream cakes Camille bought after I fell asleep. I dug out the last sandwich, hoping the deli meat contained enough preservatives to have kept it fresh after an eight-hour road trip. After polishing off the sandwich, I ate one of the flaky, custard-filled Neapolitans and washed it down with a four-dollar bottle of hotel grape juice. Finally sated, I crawled back into bed, thinking the raven was absolutely right. Falling asleep with a migraine on the first night of our official honeymoon was decidedly unromantic. Determined to show her a remarkably idyllic day on the morrow, I vowed to make it different, and drifted into a deep, dreamless sleep.