It was on a warm late spring morning that I arrived in my office to be greeted with a summons to the ambassador's office.
When I arrived, I stopped short, for Mr. Stark had a visitor, someone I knew well, and for whom I had decidedly mixed feelings.
Gen. John James Pershing was seated in a chair across from the ambassador's desk, and he rose when I entered the office.
"Sergeant Guidry," he said as he offered his hand in greeting, using the rank to which I had risen during my service in the Army. "You've done well for yourself. I'm pleased."
"General Pershing," I replied as we shook hands guardedly. "It has been a long time."
For just a moment, my mind went back to the steamy jungles of the Philippines, where I had served under Black Jack Pershing in subduing the Moros.
In some respects, I admired the man. He was a very capable soldier, and leader of men in combat. We had become well-acquainted during our time in the Philippines, and he had been crucial in the advancement of my military career.
However, I also came to believe that he was at least partly responsible for some of the excesses that American troops engaged in during that bloody conflict.
I should make it clear that I don't know for certain whether he ordered or even knew about some of the darker things that went on there.
But I have always been convinced that he at least suspected some things were happening there that shouldn't have been going on, and that his attitude of doing whatever it took to achieve the objective -- in this case, subduing Aguinaldo's rebels -- fostered an atmosphere where atrocities could be committed.
American activities in the Philippines were a deep dark secret in certain circles in the Army. It was a forgotten episode in a faraway part of the world, nobody was willing to speak up, and, frankly, nobody was probably willing to listen at that point in time.
However, Pershing himself had given me a letter of recommendation that eased my entry into LSU when I left the Army, and helped me obtain my position with the college's militia, so I was somewhat beholden to him, and perhaps that ensured my silence on the matter.
All of that passed through my mind in but a heartbeat, then I focused on the task at hand. I had been brought in for a specific reason, and I suspected my previous service under Pershing was a major factor in that reason.
Pershing had just arrived in Paris a week or so before to begin the process of establishing an American presence in the war. He was to be the supreme commander of the American Expeditionary Force, which would soon be joining the French and British in fighting Germany.
As I had expected all along, the Germans had finally done something stupid that pushed the United States into the war on the side of the Allies.
The stated reason was the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare, which President Wilson believed was a grievous breach of American neutrality, and which many Americans believed was an inappropriately sneaky way to wage war.
Personally, I thought that was incredibly naïve. The British blockade of the European continent, which Germany rightly called a, "starvation blockade," was having a debilitating effect on the German people, and the best means at their disposal to fight that blockade was the submarine, which by its very nature was a stealth weapon.
And there was no doubt in my mind -- nor that of anyone in the know -- that American merchant ships headed for Britain were secretly carrying armaments to Britain that ended up with the Allied armies.
So I didn't have a serious moral problem with unrestricted submarine warfare as a tactic of war, and by itself that might not have been enough to jolt America out of its neutrality.
What did it was the so-called Zimmerman Telegram, a notorious bit of correspondence from the German foreign minister, Alfred Zimmerman, to the German Embassy in Washington. The British had intercepted the telegram, figured out what it meant and had eagerly -- gleefully -- passed it on to the Americans.
Basically, the Germans were suggesting an alliance with Mexico against the United States, and in return Mexico would be given the states of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona in the event of a German victory.
It was outrageous and outlandish on its face, because Mexico was in no position to offer Germany any sort of material assistance in the war. Mexico was more than five years deep into a bloody and chaotic civil war that had left that nation ruined.
In fact, Jack Pershing himself had spent months campaigning in Mexico with a small force in pursuit of Mexican bandits after one of them, one Pancho Villa, had come across the border and shot up a small town in New Mexico.
Nevertheless, the mere thought of some of our states as booty in the Great War inflamed American opinion, never mind the fact that we had taken those very states from Mexico by force almost 70 years earlier.
It was that something stupid that I had told Marcel Lévesque years earlier would be what got the U.S. into the war, and in April, the president had declared war on Germany.
Now, Gen. Pershing was in Paris with his staff and my assignment was to be a liaison with him and his staff in acclimating them to the brutal realities of war on the Western Front.
We weren't any too soon getting involved, either. Just weeks earlier, the Tsar of Russia had abdicated and a democratic government had been formed, but it was precariously perched in power, and Russia's continued involvement in the war was uncertain.
My good friend Sergei Hoffman had been called back to Russia, and he had reluctantly gone home. We had enjoyed a farewell dinner at Marcel's the night before he departed, and he wished Madeleine and I good luck.
I didn't realize it at the time, but I would never see my friend again. We heard from him for awhile through letters he sent, but after the Bolsheviks took power in November, those letters stopped, and we never heard from him again.
I can only assume that as a diplomat for and a minor noble in the tsarist regime that he had been a target of the Bolsheviks and that he had paid for that with his life in the madness that befell Russia in the years that followed the revolution of 1917.
I spent the rest of that day, and the rest of the week in consultations with Pershing and his staff members. I quickly realized that I needed to disabuse our officers of the nature of this war.
"There is nothing glorious about the fighting in this war," I told a group of staffers in a lecture one afternoon. "It is dirty, brutal, monotonous, terrifying and bloody."
The next week, I got an assignment that both thrilled and terrified me. I was asked to accompany an American pilot to take some aerial photos of the front lines.
The pilot was one of the men who had been flying and fighting with the so-called Lafayette Escadrille, a group of American volunteers who brought their expertise to the Allies.
I had never been up in an airplane before, and the experience was like nothing I'd ever had before. It was exhilarating in one sense, but I was also shaken by the thought of the many things that could have gone wrong.
We were not up there to fight, but to do some reconnaissance, and I wasn't sure what would happen if we had encountered an enemy plane.
We were actually flying over German territory, and I was afraid we would draw the attention of the Germans, who would send a squadron up to take care of us. But, fortunately, we were able to do our business unimpeded.
Another concern was the matter of taking photos from the rear cockpit of an early airplane. I had to take a firm grip on the camera and lean slightly out of the open cockpit to shoot. Sure, I was strapped in, still, it was a terrifying experience.
From up high, however, one could get a real sense of the trench system, and the photos I took were instrumental in giving me and the Army staff the overall picture of the geography of the war.
Nevertheless, I was relieved when we finally landed. I kissed the ground when I disengaged from the plane, much to the amusement of my pilot.
In early June, something happened that drove home the importance of my job. Earlier in the spring, the French had suffered heavy losses in a futile assault near Verdun, and the French troops reached their breaking point.
Thousands of French soldiers had mutinied, and others who were prodded into battle marched to the front bleating in derision, the implication being that they were simply sheep being led to slaughter, which was not far from the truth.
Gen. Pershing heard about the mutiny and pressed to me the importance that something like that must not happen with our troops.
The French mutiny, however, was a manifestation of a wider war-weariness that was finding more and more expression in art and literature, as well as on the streets of Paris. Nearly three years of butchery, with no end in sight, had fostered a bitterness and a coarsening of life that was palpable in Paris, so close to the front.
I, for one, had taken to carrying my trusty pistol with me at all times, even in public. I procured a smaller one for Madeleine, as well, and I took her out to the country south of the city to teach her how to use it, should it become necessary. I was taking no chances with my life, nor that of the woman I loved.
I was working long hours, and traveling quite a lot between Paris and the American Army headquarters, and Madeleine was faithfully keeping house, tending to Marie and helping her father at the bistro, where business had picked up again after a lull shortly after the war began.
Madeleine was a wonderful cook and housekeeper, and she had taken to the role of wife and mother like a duck to water. She was a natural nurturer, a woman who was born to care for others. She had taken care of Marcel during her youth, and she took care of me and our child.
She and her friend Therese had worked out an arrangement where they cared for the other one's baby while they each split time serving at Marcel's. We had also set up a nursery area in the back office at the bistro on occasions when they were both needed.
As a war widow, Therese was entitled to a stipend from the French government, but it wasn't much, since she and her husband had not been married long. Marcel had offered her a job, and she had accepted gratefully.
Having a friend who could look after our child paid off nicely on our second anniversary in June.
I returned from a visit to Pershing's headquarters to be greeted by a smiling Madeleine and the smells of something delicious coming from the kitchen.
"Where is Marie?" I asked after a lengthy kiss.
"She is staying the night with Therese and Rosa," Madeleine said in a seductive tone of voice, referring to her friend's young child, who was already a playmate of our little girl, who was just learning to walk. "We have the house to ourselves. I have something in mind for you."
"Oh?" I exclaimed, with a raised eyebrow. "Can I assume this will be something I will enjoy?"
"Oh, indeed," she said, leaning over and kissing me again. "I think you will enjoy this very much. You know, of course, that it was two years ago today..."
"Yes, my love, the best day of my life," I said. "A magical day."
We kissed again, a sort of hunger growing between us, then Madeleine pulled away to finish preparing dinner.
After a sumptuous meal, Madeleine excused herself to our bedroom, while I relaxed on the sofa with a copy of the afternoon newspaper.
At length, I heard Madeleine call for me to come join her. I walked to the bedroom, opened the door and stood transfixed.
Madeleine was kneeling on the bed, with her back to the door. She was dressed, sort of, in a one-piece set of bloomers, that were somewhat old-fashioned, but incredibly sexy with the ties to the crotch and the top undone.
The effect had her sex open and ready, like she was offering herself as a meal. Her breasts were out and hanging free from the opening at her chest, the dark pink tips stiff in plain arousal.
She was looking back at me with a seductive smile, like some Parisian courtesan, her fingers beckoning me to enter, to take her. Her long dark hair was down and spread about her shoulders like the finest silk. She had obviously spent some time brushing it to a polished sheen.
"My God," I whispered. "You are so beautiful. The most beautiful woman I've ever seen. You always have been."
"Come, Robert," she whispered back. "Come and take me. Just for tonight, I will be your whore, your wanton woman. I will do anything you want, any way you want."
I couldn't pass up an offer like that, although truth be known, Madeleine always had a little bit of whore in her when we made love. She loved sex, and had a real sense of adventure in bed. And I was to find out just how uninhibited she could be.
I quickly stripped and threw my suit onto the chair, then approached the bed, lightly fisting my cock, which was already hard in anticipation. The head was red and wet from arousal as I pulled my foreskin back in preparation.
I was tempted to just climb on the bed and mount her, but I decided that if she wanted to play, then so did I.
"Turn around, my whore," I commanded softly, and she quickly complied. Madeleine's eyes were sparkling with lust as she looked up at me in anticipation. "Suck it."
There was no hesitation. She leaned forward slightly, took my cock in her hands and brought the head to her face. Her tongue slid out from her moist lips and licked the head, the slid her lips down the shaft, licking around the rigid flesh, causing me to groan in incipient ecstasy.
She bathed the shaft with her lips and tongue, sawing my length over her open mouth, before abruptly slipping the head past her lips and into her mouth.
I groaned louder this time, as she sucked a good two-thirds of my length into her maw. She kept a firm grip at the base of my penis while feeding the rest into her hungry mouth. She was humming in lust of her own as she worked me with her mouth, sending vibrations all the way to my brain.
I lost myself in the sensations of Madeleine's oral ministrations, and I congratulated myself on my success in teaching her how to do it. Oral sex had been part of our sex life almost from the beginning, and Madeleine had been eager to learn.
This was just another example of how much freer the French were in sexual matters. Most nice young American wives of that period would never be caught dead sucking their husbands. But it was simply another way for Madeleine to please her man, and she had not objected at all at the thought of taking me in her mouth.
Nor did I object in the least at pleasuring her that way. I had come to appreciate the wonders of cunnilingus during my college days by a New Orleans prostitute that I had come to know, and I enjoyed showing Madeleine what I knew.
As much as I was reveling in the feeling of my wife's warm, wet mouth on my cock, I wanted a taste of her hot pie.
I pulled myself away from Madeleine, and felt a stir at the tendrils of wetness that clung to her lips momentarily.
I climbed up on the bed, knelt down behind her, just like she was and inhaled her essence. She as dripping wet, and the aroma of her hot slit was intoxicating.
I grabbed her hips and slashed my tongue up her slot, then bored in until my lips were pressed against her labia. I felt Madeleine's body twitch involuntarily and a low groan escaped her mouth.
I smiled to myself at how I was able to please my little minx, at how I had made her mine. I wouldn't have called her my love slave, but that's basically what she was. I had quickly learned how to work her body like a fine-tuned machine, and she loved me for it.
In and out, I licked her sex, while reaching under to roll her clit with a finger. Madeleine was thrusting her hips back as he climax began to climb, and I knew the time was nigh.
Giving her vagina one last kiss. I stood up, slid in right behind her, lined up my cock to her opening and pushed the head right on in. We both groaned deeply and loudly as I plunged in to the hilt in one smooth, screaming stroke.
In no time, I was in rhythm and we were gasping in lust. I could not believe how hot and wet Madeleine was as I fucked her with long, purposeful strokes. She threw her head back and her long hair flipped back with it, with loose strands spread over her shoulders.
"You are so beautiful, my love, my whore," I whispered as I felt the sap rising in my scrotum with each sizzling stroke.
"Unnnnnnnnh, yessssss," Madeleine exclaimed. "I will ... always be your ... whore, Robert. Always."
Madeleine's body was starting to shimmy and shake as we reached for a mutual climax. Higher and higher, the sensations kept building. I leaned over and captured her breasts in each hand, rolling her nipples between my fingers as I did, and it was like turning on a switch.
She shuddered from her head to her toes, and she cried out in passion as the orgasm ripped through her body. That was all I could stand. With a groan, I fucked her incredibly deep three full strokes then surrendered a crackling load of semen.
I felt like my entire body was coming through my penis as I spurted my seed deep in my bride's womb. For long minutes the convulsions of lust swept over us, then we slowly sank to the bed in sweat-soaked satisfaction.
"Robert, you are my love," Madeleine whispered as we lay together in our afterglow.
"And you are mine, Madeleine," I whispered back.
If I could have, I would have preserved that moment in glass, for there would be fewer and fewer of them as my role in the war began to deepen.
It wasn't that our love in any way diminished, but the time was rapidly approaching when I would be spending more time in the field than at home, and we would have precious few moments like this one.
And we were on a collision course with personal trials and tribulations we could not have imagined.