Spies in Paris in the Spring

Here's a selection from The Heraklion Gambit. I love this chapter. I put Nick Temple and Vanessa Porter on the Left Bank in a small hotel that was my father's favorite. I stayed there with him back in May of 1975 during my first visit to Paris. As with many young Americans, I was at the time fascinated by the expats of the 1920s. I returned in June of 1984 to spend three wonderful days with the woman I would marry less than a year later. This chapter, which takes place in 1955, owes its origin to my brief time in a city so many others have written about so beautifully.


The DC-6B takes just under two hours gate to gate to fly from Berlin to Paris. As the flight touches down at Paris-Orly airport, Nick Temple and Vanessa Porter are deep in thought about the next 24 hours. Nick’s decision to stay the night carries emotional and security risks that blend together in a way that few couples have to contemplate.

“Our reservation is under the name of Mr. and Mrs. Taft. Harry Taft’s an old friend who works out of Prague these days. Here’s your passport.”

Nick hands Vanessa a forged passport, complete with recent travel stamps that indicate she has been touring Europe for a number of weeks.

“No disrespect meant to your late husband.”

“Of course not. I understand.”

She leafs through the stamped pages of the passport.

“I’ve never actually been to Barcelona. I hope there isn’t a test.”

The aircraft comes to a halt on the tarmac. Vanessa leans over and Nick reflexively kisses her. She has mixed feelings about the coming week’s arrangements. Understanding that the French might not have been predisposed to welcome the widow of a German Army officer, she has not been to the city since before the war and looks forward to reacquainting herself with Paris. She also realizes that this is not simply a romantic holiday, but a ruse for her personal safety as she dives deeper into the most dangerous geopolitical struggle of the day. For a woman who has spent many years relying on her own wits, the feeling that for the time being she has to rely on Nick and a small group of his countrymen to make certain crucial decisions is unsettling.

After consulting at length with his fellow agents, Nick selected the small Hôtel du Brésil, situated in the Latin Quarter at 10 rue Le Goff, for their one night stay and Vanessa’s week alone. A block from the Jardin du Luxembourg, and near the Pantheon and other Left Bank landmarks, the hotel’s location is charming, convenient, and discreet. Nick spent a month in Paris, much of it in the Latin Quarter, immediately after it was liberated in August of 1944 as a reward for a particularly successful sabotage mission deep behind German lines. His personal familiarity with the area around the Boulevards Saint-Michel and Saint-Germain was an important factor in selecting the hotel. The fact that two of the Company’s men in Paris live and work within a block of the hotel helped seal the deal.

Check-in goes without a hitch. No test about Barcelona; no awkward questions; just a polite clerk working the small reception desk of an unassuming hotel on La Rive Gauche.

Once in their room, Nick exchanges his suit for a sweater and slacks. Vanessa replaces her heels with flats and sits on the bed.

“I should like to get a drink and something to eat. Then, perhaps, we could take a stroll in the park?”

“The Café de Cluny is nearby. From there we can walk easily to the Jardin du Luxembourg,” Nick offers.

“That sounds lovely.”

Vanessa offers her hand to Nick, and hand in hand they leave the hotel.

A light alfresco lunch washed down with a crisp 1953 Pouilly-Fuissé, followed by a slow stroll along the crushed-stone paths of the Jardin du Luxembourg are all prelude to a late afternoon in their modest hotel room. For a few hours they forget about spies of all stripes, security threats, the Cold War, Berlin, Crete, Moscow, Washington, and the rest of their lives. Instead, for a few hours they deeply feel the transcendent experience of spring in Paris.