The three men stood in courtesy as the two women left the table and then sat again.
"Well, Herr Klein, what can I do for you? Help you get provision contracts with the Quartermaster Department? Mind you, there are some things even the Commanding General of Paris can’t do."
"General von Choltitz, what I want from you is simple. I want you not to burn Paris."
Dietrich von Choltitz gaped in astonishment at Alan. "What? What are you talking about? Who are you to suggest such a thing?"
Alan steeled his courage and blurted out. "Sir, I am an American OSS officer, sent here by the Allied Forces to convince you not to destroy Paris as you did Sebastopol."
The General shifted uncomfortably, looking for a way out. "Karl, what the hell is going on? Do you know who this man is? I order you to call the Gestapo immediately and take this man into custody."
Karl was a picture of dejection and apprehension. "Please, Herr General. Listen to him, I beg you."
General von Choltitz’s face darkened. "Anne-Marie. Is she involved in this? Has all her attention been to prepare me for this treason?"
Here was Alan’s chance. All he had to do was say yes, and the crest-fallen General would never again have anything to do with the French woman. Mentally, he sighed. It would gain nothing to say yes and might damage his mission’s chances.
"No, Herr General. I preyed upon her past friendship with me just like I did with Karl here. I simply showed up at her doorstep and forced myself in, using my friendship with Karl to stop her protests. Neither she nor Karl knew about my mission until I showed up."
Alan saw the quick relief slip across the old man’s face. Swiftly, he continued, before the German had an opportunity to gather his swirling thoughts.
"Of course, the Gestapo would never believe it if I were interrogated by them. Both of the women, plus Karl here, would face the firing squad if you turn me in now."
"Gott im Himmel! You’re right, of course. Karl, what have you got me into?
"I’m sorry, Herr General. But, I do agree with Alan. You can’t burn Paris. You can’t. The stain on the Fatherland could never be purged."
"Karl, what do you know about it? I have my orders, directly from the Fuhrer. I have sworn an oath, as have you."
"Yes, Herr General,” Alan cut in. He had to keep the man off-balance until the logic of his argument soaked in. "But the Fuhrer won’t be the one to answer for the crime if the city is burned. You will. And, the Russians have already put your name on a list of war criminals to be turned over to them after the war. Plus all of your family. They want revenge for Sebastopol."
General von Choltitz’s face grew deathly white. "Umberta, and my children? What do they know of my actions as a soldier?"
Alan shrugged his shoulders. "You know how it is, General. The Allies will probably hang you for burning Paris and the Russkies will do the same to your family.” Alan had the man’s complete attention now. "I have a proposition to offer you from the Free French Government. One you should consider very carefully, I think."