Hauptmann Wadel rose the next morning with Reims, France on his mind. It was where they had taken Annette prisoner, but it held no strategic influence for The Noblemen. It was simply a textile village that was occupied in large by civilians, yet he could not shake the thought of its importance. He scratched his groggy penis, but the thought persisted. Rosanella was not in his dreams that night, but then again, perhaps she was. Reims stood up in his mind like a roadblock, directing all of his thoughts down detours that led right to its positioning on the map and the red haired woman who hid in its woods. His penis remained flaccid, but he could not disregard the suspicion that subconscious lust had influenced his concern with Reims. He scanned the concentration of partisan attacks, assumed to be responsible by The Noblemen, which stretched just over two hundred miles, the starting point being several miles east of Reims and going around the town then south through the towns neighboring the west of Paris, but never from Reims. Most of the attacks followed the path of a major railway – sabotage mainly – but there were also sporadic conflicts bleeding into the countryside bordering the immediate villages. Hauptmann Wadel’s men had searched Reims and the neighboring towns for its Jews and its partisans after conquering France, using both fact and fiction to convict the guilty, until it was certain that the areas had been pacified, but despite this knowledge he continued to scour his files concerning Reims, digesting all of the information available, yet no amount of data freed his mind from the unprovoked superstitions. He studied the files about every prisoner to come in and out of his building, reviewing the areas in which they were taken prisoner, their level of violence, intellect, craft, and family history. There were six prisoners still alive who came from Reims: two had been tortured for too long to divulge any new information by will, but four of them were partially untainted, having experienced no physical torture other than hunger and discomfort. They were fresh enough to give into kind gestures and warm food – they were fresh enough to still care about their loved ones. Despite Hauptmann Wadel’s attraction to savagery, he discovered that friendly interrogations in a comfortable atmosphere often led to the most accurate, truthful information, whereas torture and pain often led to prisoners saying anything to end their suffering. He admitted the tactic was more successful with prisoners of war than it was with partisans, but he ordered Wachtmeister Burger to gather the four lucky souls for a day of lunch with their friend Hauptmann Wadel, nonetheless. Whole wheat baguettes, smoked turkey breast, peppered prosciutto, fresh spinach leaves, heirloom tomatoes, provolone cheese, mayonnaise, and a soda pop to wash it down! Hauptmann Wadel paid for these ingredients in usual scofflaw fashion: the verbal exchange, “It’s for your countrymen. The one’s who are really suffering.” But Hauptmann Wadel, how does one suffer over turkey sandwiches and soda pop? “Care to see for yourself?” He paced through the city like a man who could feed an entire village with a loaf of bread and a few fish. His own dignity had him thinking of a man who had performed a similar service, and just like that his mind ran off with thoughts of religion, sainthood, and God’s blessed, which brought his mind to focus on Sacre Coeur Basilica and the Cardinal chirping from the bell tower. Hauptmann Wadel and Wachtmeister Burger parked at the base of Sacre Coeur Basilica, staring up the stairway to heaven as if the white highrise columns and three fantastic domes that housed God’s secrets were a glimpse into the reality of heaven. The basilica rose into the expanse of clear blue sky, ascending, bringing Hauptmann Wadel a step closer to the big man. He glided up the steps, as if a phantom energy had inherited the burden of his gut, stepping over people reading along the steps, and pushing past reddened faces of people who parted away from his insignia. Sounds like another familiar somebody. It was a clear day with no snow. Dead grass lined the stairway. Victory runs through the White Rabbit. All religious men speak in riddles, thought Hautpmann Wadel. “Here’s one for you: the grass is always greener on the other side,” he said to the god who had brought Cardinal Poldi’s riddle to life. Forget about the winter conditions – forget about the obvious pleonasm – this was personal.
The illuminated fresco of Jesus Christ in his moment of resurrection and immortality shined its benevolence upon Hauptmann Wadel. He looked at Jesus Christ with the Virgin Mary by his right side and saw himself along the trinity. It’s a simple game of association. Symbolism: mankind inherited the phenomenon. It’s the ego at it’s best. Of course, we suffer from it too! We read what we want to read and we see what we want to see. Good and evil: heaven and hell. It has always been an internal struggle, but mankind sees it as a place in their future. We all function best under a reward system. Hauptmann Wadel’s thoughts were not his own, and he was not seeing the truth, but what someone was telling him to see. Carried forth by a waking dream, he was told to see his rise to greatness – his contribution to the world. The grass was getting greener. He kneeled in the isle and did the sign of the cross, never taking his eyes off of the fresco of Jesus Christ, then rose with the conviction implanted by a god that skulked behind the golden eyes that looked down from the ceiling.
Cardinal Marcel Poldi answered the pounding knock undisturbed, and invited the two men into his office without a show of vexation. Two arched windows with hinged, panes of glass and small knobs backed the office. The glass doors were open, and the sound of the city touched the window seals. A large golden cross of Jesus Christ dying for your suffering hung between the windows – the crown of thorns had been painted red. “Please, take a seat, Hauptmann Wadel.” Hauptmann Wadel and Wachtmeister Burger placed their hats on the desk, and sat across from Cardinal Poldi. To their right there was an oil painting of a whore being stoned to death. The cracking paint fought against time, but for now the image could be seen in all its brutality. Dark clusters of rallying village people created a halo around the prime perpetrators, who stood in the middle of the riot with rocks raised above their heads, the moment before they murdered a woman, a virgin, dressed in a calm blue tunic. The center was painted so crisply that the color of their tunics under their tunics radiated with violence and serenity. But most beautiful of all was the six glaring faces – the grimace of scorned men – that honed in on the helpless whore to cast their abuse before throwing the first stone. To their left was another oil painting, one that depicted a violent baptism. In the forefront of the painting – the focal point for the amateur – was a priest guiding a man out of the water. He cradled him as he ascended to a renewed faith, and they were both smiling, reveling in the knowledge that when he let go God’s hand would be the one to guide him. In the back of the painting, just past the man being baptized is a man experiencing a rival baptism: the baptism by fire. A small chain of hooded men circle the pike, and if you listen closely enough you can hear them chant a melodic hymn in honor of the burning man. Hauptmann Wadel saw a new trinity.
“What can I help you with Hauptmann Wadel?” It spoke