I'll See You Down There
Sidi Bel Abbes. North Africa. July 1945
It only took a week for Gott, Sigi and Harald to find themselves back in North Africa.
The Legion fort at Sidi Bel Abbes was back in business, training recruits for the French Foreign Legion. Fifty per cent of the new Legion would be German.
France had an empire to regain. Just for the moment Chinese and Americans controlled her empire, and she wanted it back. She would need a third of a million trained military men to regain her lost domains. Germany had that and more to spare, and all of them were unemployed.
Paris, December 2009
He sat quietly in his wheel-chair. Old friends who came to pay their respects were shocked by his frailty. They tried to hide it, but Gottfried sensed their alarm.
It wasn't their worry that set him thinking. He had just noticed that they always called him Gottfried.
Gottfried… how many years was it since anyone had called him Gott?… It was even longer since anyone had called him Mein Gott. That had been Sigi's personal right… Mein Gott.
Sigi had been dead forty… or was it? Yes, fifty years. But, Gott was alive, at least in his own opinion… very much alive.
On a day like this, he still believed himself to be immortal. Anyway, he wasn't afraid of death.
He had seen far too many men die to be afraid of death.
For almost all of them the moment of passing had been a moment of peace, a moment of realisation that their suffering was about to end.
Gottfried smiled to himself. The final enemy was going to win, but he was going to make sure that it was one hell of a fight!
As always, his doctors, the Luftwaffe's best doctors, had advised against this trip to Paris, but Gott had been determined. This was an opportunity for a final defiance. If he was going to die anyway, he would much prefer that it was while having an adventure.
Was a trip to Paris, meeting old friends and standing to salute at the Bastille Day Parade an adventure?
At his age… damn right it was an adventure!
It had been a tough decision whether to wear his Fallschirmjäger general's uniform with Croix de Guerre, or… his Foreign Legion major's uniform with his Iron Cross. He had won two Iron Crosses, the second one, First Class, when they rescued Mussolini at Gran Sasso. The other resulted from the mindless rage that he had been in after Gerhard's death during the invasion of Crete.
They could afford to be generous with medals after Crete. There weren't that many survivors from the first wave to need medals.
He settled for Kepi Blanc and Iron Cross. The Iron Cross always brought strange looks but many of his fellow Legion NCO's had been entitled to wear one. The difference was that Gottfried was now old enough to enjoy the notoriety rather than fear it.
He was very fond of the Iron Cross. It reminded him of Gran Sasso, and the beautiful Italian boy who had rescued him from the isolation he had settled for after Gerhard's death on Crete.
His Iron Cross First Class was special. Most were presented by a commanding officer, perhaps a Reichsmarschall or general if you were lucky. Gottfried had received his from the hands of the Führer himself.
Gottfried held nothing against the Führer personally. It was his opinion that surrounded by sycophants and monsters any leader could have lost his way. He lost it enough to invade Russia, and then again when he was foolish enough to declare war on the USA! For four days after Pearl Harbour he had been getting away with it, maybe the Americans really didn't want boots on the ground in Europe. It was still taking more than mis-behaving orientals to project America into a European war… so Hitler did it for them, and declared war himself.
No-one was perfect, but in his day the Führer had captured the whole of Europe for a loss of men less than the first day at the Somme… Well, nearly the whole of Europe. All he had missed was England, but that was a bigger miss than anyone in Germany realised at the time.
England could have been so different.
At that moment in history, all England had was a fragile line of radar stations and the equally fragile handful of fighter squadrons. That one was incredibly well organised, and the other consisted of men with bottomless reserves of courage was all that it took to thwart his ambitions. That and the hubris to declare war on both the USA and Russia!
His Kepi Blanc reminded him of Dien Bien Phu and the terrible losses the Legion took there… losses that meant so much to Gottfried. They were losses that he could ill-afford after having already lost Gerhard. It also reminded him of the terrible struggle to return through the jungle after the fortress fell to the Viet Minh
But then, as his mind wandered across the huge canvas of his life, a pleasanter memory crossed his mind. North Africa… his first Legion posting after completing training and receiving his kepi. The World War Two campaign in North Africa had been almost entirely a fighting soldier's war, but his return there later with the Legion had brought a lighter side that had freed him from at least one ghost that had troubled him.
North Africa 1950s
His friends were standing in line outside the B.M.C., the Bordel Mobile de Campagne just inside the camp gates. It was simply a panel van divided into cubicles by pieces of curtain, and its prostitutes serviced the whole of the regiment. The Legion's regimental doctors underwrote the girls' health… and so that of the soldiers they lay with.
It was a Saturday night distraction that held no attraction for Gott.
Just as he had nearly ten years earlier, he decided to walk into town. It was bit more of a risk this time. That had been a newly liberated Tunisia… the enemy of my enemy is my friend was how the local Arabs had seen it.
This was different, this was Algeria, an Algeria whose Arab population France still held by force of arms, a force of arms that was as much confused and at war among itself as it was with the Arabs of one of France's more reluctant colonies.
Still, Gott was tough and armed. Men crossed the street when they saw him coming. If only they knew that all he really wanted on a Saturday night was to feel the arms of a strong young man, preferably with dark curly hair and flashing dark eyes.
The memory momentarily disturbed his stride.
That was when he sensed rather than saw… out of the corner of his eye.
An Arab in white djellabah was running straight at him, dodging traffic, intent only on the legionnaire that he had in his sights.
Gott dropped to one knee, slightly turned to present as small a target as possible. He had drawn his sidearm and was raising it to fire, aware of the Saturday evening crowd in the street. They were running, but why was it that passers-by never scattered fast enough.
He was about to fire when something made him stop. In his direct line of fire… was what had stopped him…
There was a Fallschirmjäger eagle.
He tried to concentrate on the man running towards him, but was unaccountably distracted by the vehicle beyond him.
The man had seen his gun and had stopped, he was waving his arms in the air…
"Gottfried… effendi… effendi! Do not shoot! Do not shoot! It is I, Mustafa… Mustafa!"
The shouts in broken German took his mind back… to the desert and the heroic Arab boy who had brought them water and ammunition when they would have died without them!
"Mustafa! Mustafa!" He ran into the traffic, and… to the astonishment of everyone around them, the burly legionnaire took the slightly portly Arab man in his arms, lifted him off his feet and… kissed him.
Traffic milled around them. It took them a few minutes to realise that they were now the centre of attention. A few smiled, many frowned… but no-one could ignore the two men who were hugging and kissing amongst the traffic.
"Quickly… before your Tuareg see us!" Gott said with a grin, in Arabic.
"Quickly… before your Legion see us!" Mustafa replied with an even bigger grin… if that were possible.
Before either could see them, Mustafa dragged Gott across the road to his lorry.
Camionnage de L'Aigle d'Or
That was what was painted on the side, and on the door was what had stopped Gott from firing… a Fallschirmjäger eagle, but one that had no swastika in its talons.
Gott was impressed. The vehicle was not one of the war-torn German trucks that they had given Mustafa eight years earlier. This was a huge Renault desert lorry with the enormously high wheelbase needed to clear sand dunes. It appeared to be new and freshly painted. Mustafa opened the door and pushed Gott up into the cab.
"Are you well? Are you married?" Gott said it in Arabic, Mustafa in French.
They both smiled and shook their heads.
"No women?" Gott asked.
"No women!" Mustafa agreed. "But, I have a new baby!"
He patted the steering-wheel… "This is my new baby… isn't she beautiful?"
"She is!" Gott said. "Do the German ones still run?" He asked… Really, he wasn't sure what to say or what to ask first. It had been so many years.
It was certainly Mustafa, but now the boy was a man and it took a feat of memory to see the beautiful boy… But, then Mustafa the man grinned, and the boy was still there.
"Two of them run still. The other one I use for spares to keep them running… with a few spares they will run forever… They were built by Germans."
Then a pause, and… "I was so sad when you left Africa!"
Mustafa's face crumpled and tears ran down his face, creating dark brown streaks in the desert dust.
"What are you doing in Algeria?" Gott asked. "I was going to look for you in Tunisia if I got leave, but Algeria?"
"Dates!" Mustafa said "Today I brought a truckload of Tunisian dates for Algeria and tomorrow I'm taking a load of vehicle spares from Algeria back to Tunis."
"You, why you? It's a long drive!" Gott asked. With at least three lorries to choose a driver from, Mustafa had chosen to do the long hard drive himself.
"It's an expensive load of spares tomorrow." Mustafa replied. But then, remembering who he was telling and that he didn't need to hide, he added…
"I do the drives to Algeria myself… I have a friend here… He has a shop in the souk." Then he smiled shyly.
"Come, come… I must introduce you to him!
"But… Perhaps a coffee, a walk around town?" Gott said. He couldn't bring himself to voice what he really wanted to say. He wanted time with Mustafa, not with his friend… a friend that presumably had the place in Mustafa's bed that should have been his… if life had been fairer.
"Later, later maybe later. First we must visit my friend! I have told him so much about you!"
Mustafa started the lorry's engine and they roared off down the street towards the centre of town. Saturday night traffic scattered as the huge desert lorry carved a path through the town. Then they careered off the highway into a vacant lot.
Mustafa pointed to the shops that backed onto the lot. "This way!"
They disappeared into a passageway and emerged into the warm damp atmosphere of the souk, a mix of smells… cooking, spices, fruit and bread. There were shops selling fabric and gold, coffee and cakes.
"This way!" He went three shops down, to a goldsmiths, the doorbell tinkled as they entered.
Spreading his arms as if to embrace the whole world, he shouted.
"Ibrahim! Ibrahim! I am home… I have a surprise for you!"
An extraordinarily beautiful, but very young man came through a beaded screen at the rear.
"This is my friend Ibrahim!"
Gott gasped… "Oh, but he is beautiful!" He said quietly to Mustafa.
"Yes, he is beautiful… and he is mine!" Mustafa said with a grin.
Ibrahim looked startled, as well he might.
"A legionnaire?" He asked, mild disapproval in his voice.
"A Fallschirmjäger!" Mustafa said.
Then, very solemnly he said "Ibrahim… This is Gottfried, my parachutist."
To Gott's immense surprise, Ibrahim's face collapsed and tears ran down his face.
He stepped towards Gott and embraced him. "Shukran, shukran effendi… Thank you, thank you!" He said.
"What for?" Gott asked, puzzled by Ibrahim's reaction.
"You saved my Mustafa. I lost my brother, but you saved my Mustafa!"
Mustafa looked shyly at Gott. "Ibrahim is my chief's youngest son." He said.
"When he told his father that he too would never marry, his father was angry, but… he sent Ibrahim away to town. He bought him a shop. This time there was no hashish to cloud his mind."
Then he added. "Our chief has a third son, Ibrahim's older brother… He is married, and has two sons. The chief has both a son and grandson to rule the tribe after him."
"What about you… and the chief?"
Mustafa patted his ample waistline. "It's eight years. He would not know me. I am not the boy the chief knew… and I make sure we never get too close."
Then he said… "I have not forgiven him… and he will not have forgiven me. We can never be friends, but God willing, we are not enemies. I am just Abdul, the man who organises secure deliveries of gold and jewellery from Cairo and Tunis, for his son."
By this point, Ibrahim had disappeared upstairs and after some rustling about, he came to the foot of the stairs and invited Gott up to the family area.
Inevitably, coffee was brewing and sweet sticky cakes were on a side-table… It stood beside a bed whose covers had been freshly smoothed. Ibrahim took a small stool and sat by the door, offering a seat on the bed to Gott, Mustafa then sat beside him, holding his hand in an Arab kind of way, maybe.
Gott had no idea what to expect. He could understand why Ibrahim was grateful that he had saved Mustafa's life… but that didn't explain why Ibrahim seemed so pleased to see him, almost as if he were the answer to a prayer.
That was when Ibrahim rose, and with immense dignity said…
"Gottfried-effendi. You saved Mustafa for me… You gave me my Mustafa. Now I, Ibrahim, blessed by God and your kindness, give him to you." He paused… "I will return later. The shop is closing early tonight."
He smiled at Mustafa. "I shall be at Abdullah's coffee shop when you are ready… When you have spoken to Gottfried of the many nights we have discussed him."
Before Gott could stop him, and with Mustafa's restraining hand re-assuringly on Gott's knee, Ibrahim turned and went downstairs. They heard the door bell tinkle and the sound of shutters being closed. A key turned in a lock. Then silence.
"I don't understand." Gott said.
"There is nothing to understand." Mustafa replied "He knows what you did for me, what you were for me. He understands everything that needs to be understood!"
Then he took Gott in his arms… and kissed him.
"He trusts us?" Gott asked.
"He trusts us to do only what he knows we need to do… what we should have done years ago. He knows my regrets, I have told him so many times. I believe that they are yours too. There are ghosts… the desert left us haunted."
"I think I understand what he is hoping for by leaving us together." Mustafa said.
There are situations that seem strange afterwards but feel perfectly natural at the time. This was such a moment. It was the better part of ten years since they had shared a bed, but it didn't feel like it. They had both been with other men since then, but it didn't feel like that either.
When they kissed, it didn't seem important that one of them owned a transport company and the other was in the Foreign Legion… no, that wasn't important.
"Do you have someone special?" Mustafa asked. Gott shook his head.
"You still think of… … Gerhard?"
Gott was pleased that Mustafa remembered the name. It showed that he truly cared for Gott's sadness.
"Not only of Gerhard… Since him… I lost another boy… "
"Was he nice? Did you love him too?"
"Yes, I loved him. I didn't realise how much I loved him until it was too late to tell him."
"He is dead too?" Mustafa asked the question gently.
Gott smiled. "No… you are very much alive. But until tonight, seeing you again was just a dream for sleepless nights."
"You still think of me?" Mustafa sounded surprised.
"Yes… you. When I cannot sleep, it's you I think of when…"
Mustafa asked gently… "It is me you think of?… not Gerhard?… I think it must be Gerhard…"
Gott sighed sadly. "No, I cannot think of him when I… The memories are too sad. But, you… my memories of you are happy ones!"
Mustafa smiled… and stretched out to hold Gott, gently feeling the length and breadth of him.
"We never…" He said.
"No, we never did. I regretted that later."
"After you did it with someone else?" Mustafa asked gently. Gott nodded.
"Actually he only ever did it to me. The memory of Gerhard made it hard… I mean made it not hard…" The explanation tailed off.
Mustafa filled the silence… "Before Ibrahim, I only did it for money with men who wanted to put themselves in me." He paused, the explanation too delicate for his French.
"Ibrahim is gentle and young. It is I who enter him. In our lives he is the wife… like his brother was before him."
As he explored Mustafa, Gott discovered that despite his portly waistline, Mustafa was tough. He had the physique of a man who spent his life loading and unloading huge lorries. When he removed his shirt, the stomach was generous in the way expected of a successful Arab who could afford sweet tea and sticky cakes, but the flesh was firm muscle to the touch… and Gott was touching him. After so many years of loss, how could he not?
They sat there kissing and stroking and gradually losing clothing. Mustafa dimmed the lamp. Their tanned skin shone like copper and bronze in the lamplight. Mustafa traced the scars on Gott's body. Then he spotted the one on Gott's knee and laughed… "You fell out of a train… the golden eagle fell out of a train!"
Gott smiled. He touched the scar on Mustafa's bicep, left by the chief's bullet.
"I'm so glad I was in time. The chief should be too. You have made his son happy?"
"Yes, Ibrahim is very happy. Of course I must travel a lot, but Ibrahim arranges the Algerian end, and we are together for a few days most weeks. Yes we are very happy. Thanks be to God, and your kindness."
Kissing turned to fondling and then to open stroking.
Gott went to take Mustafa in his mouth, but he was stopped.
"We never did the other… and we both regret that. Shall we… we should… this time?"
Gott couldn't trust himself to speak… He nodded tentatively, and then firmly.
"Yes! Let me bury Gerhard once and for all."
He paused to gather his thoughts…
"You use your cock for loving Ibrahim, so I shouldn't share that. You should never need to think of me when you are with him."
Then, laying ghosts and the past behind him, he went on…
"I've kept my promise to Gerhard all these years. I have never allowed myself to want to use mine to make love to another man. I think… I think that he would want me to tonight… with you."
So they did. At last they did it.
They kissed and touched, and Mustafa did things with a pot of cream that made Gott jump, it was so cold.
Gott was lying on Mustafa when it happened. He had expected to have to turn Mustafa onto his hands and knees, as he had always been for Luigi.
But Mustafa had skills learned as a teenage prostitute… Without any fuss or ceremony, he wrapped his legs around Gott, and then folded them up onto Gott's shoulders. Gott barely realised that it was happening before he found himself pressing gently into Mustafa's bottom.
Mustafa took control and pulled Gott towards him. Suddenly Gott was hair-deep in him and Mustafa was establishing a rhythm that Gott had never needed before… and had no practise at.
But, there are skills we have that come naturally to us when the need is there.
Gott discovered that he did know how to make love to a man. He thought that he had only been a passive receiver of Luigi's sex. But now, he knew what it was to be entered… he already knew what made it feel good… He knew how to do it, and then found that he knew how to do it well.
When Gott was ready to climax, he found that Mustafa was shaking his head from side to side… his cheeks felt on fire, his breathing ragged.
"Now Gott, now, now… please… now!"
So now! It was time for Gott… Now!
When he came, Mustafa came with him. He came because he had been fucked… loved till he came.
Gott was astonished. That had never happened to him. He had always needed Luigi to use his hand to help him finish.
Then he realised something else…
When he was coming, Mustafa had said "Now Gott!" not Gottfried-effendi, but Gott.
He used the name of his God… It was a measure of how much he had lost his mind in making love to Gott.
Gottfried hugged him, and was in no hurry to withdraw.
They lay there and dozed. Then, because it seemed right, and he wanted to make things right between Mustafa and Ibrahim… Gott said.
"We must go to Abdullah's, to see Ibrahim?" Gott said. "I want him to love me too, just a little, for your sake."
So that's what they did. They opened the window to air the room for Ibrahim's return, changed the bedding and tidied the dishes. They left no sign of what they had done.
Ibrahim had been so generous, there was no need to make it obvious…
He would know anyway. Mustafa seemed different to Gott, and if he had been able to see it… Gott was altered too.
They joined Ibrahim. Gott deliberately took the chair beside Ibrahim and held his hand. Mustafa sat the other side, and Ibrahim smiled and took Mustafa's hand. They took it in turns to let go and drink coffee.
Later, as they walked back to the shop, Ibrahim dropped back to where Gott was looking in a window.
"Gottfried… Thank you."
"What for? I should thank you!"
"No, you don't understand. When we are in bed… Sometimes he is elsewhere, and I know he is thinking of you. Now, I think the ghost is gone. Reality has returned. Now I think everything will be as it should be."
"Please visit us again when you can… Please keep the ghost away for me."
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