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THE THREE COUSINS

– By Richard Bonte and Hamilton Harcourt Fleming III

The Three Cousins

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. France, November 1918…………………………………3
  2. 1906…………………………………………………………….9
  3. 1907……………………………………………………………17
  4. 1908……………………………………………………………25
  5. 1909……………………………………………………………35
  6. 1910……………………………………………………………51
  7. 1911……………………………………………………………61
  8. 1912……………………………………………………………75
  9. 1913……………………………………………………………83
  10. 1914……………………………………………………………93
  11. 1915………………………………………………………….113
  12. 1916………………………………………………………….123
  13. 1917………………………………………………………….131
  14. 1918………………………………………………………….149
  15. France, November, 1918……………………………..161

Richard Bonte and Harman Harcourt Fleming III

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Chapter 1: France, November 1918

As the smoke began to clear, the soldier realized that he had been walking towards the enemy German trenches instead of making his way back to his own defenses. And he didn’t seem to be fearful. Maybe he’d lost his mind and that’s why he wasn’t afraid? Maybe he was in shock, but why wasn’t he aware of the enemy? Or maybe it was because the blood from his dead comrade’s body still covered his face? He wiped what he could from his eyes, but he still couldn’t see too well.

In addition to the noise and horror, there was just no light. No man’s land was dark: a mass of shell holes, barbed wire, rats, rotting bodies, bullets and mud. The thick black bog was rendered even darker by a cobalt grey sky that stretched out, like the terrain, over a lifeless horizon. For the previous four years, the Germans and the Allies had pushed each other back and forth over the same terrain so it was no wonder the soldier had trouble distinguishing sides. There weren’t any: just soldiers from both sides absurdly butchering each other for no reason.

He tried to move but there was some barbed wire clinging to his right boot. As he stooped to remove it, he realized that it was also attached to a disembodied leg. Whose leg was it? He couldn’t even remember. He was surprised he wasn’t even revolted. But then random body bits were the norm in 1918 France. He hit the barbed wire once with the butt of his rifle and the leg dropped off. He hit the wire again and it finally came loose, nipping part of his boot away. He thought about how sharp the wire must have been to do that.

As he turned his back on the German lines, he peripherally saw the dark shadow of a German soldier raising his rifle to fire at him. There were only thirty feet or so between the two of them. Instinctively, he raised his weapon, not giving any thought to the probability of success.

But the German’s rifle had jammed. The soldier now had his chance. He pulled the trigger. A hollow click. There was no ammunition. He desperately grabbed at his belt. Where were his bullets? Oh God, please! The bullets! But there was no time. The German

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soldier was now five feet away and charging with his bayonet aimed squarely at his heart. The soldier swung his bayoneted rifle upwards at the German’s chest. The two bayonets clashed. Both soldiers pulled back and then charged again. It was as if they were choreographing a macabre dance routine, but this was no ballet. There was no lightness of foot, no aerial display, no music or colors or beauty. This was mere drudgery, a fight to the death in thick black bog. Only one would live to tell his children of this encounter while the other would rot away in the mud…

Outside the Offices of Green, Carlton, Steiner; Zurich, Switzerland, 1980

…As it had every day for the past few months, the white stretch limousine came to a stop in front of the hundred-year-old bank. Inside the limousine, an eighty-two-year-old man had fallen asleep but was now stirring violently from a bad dream. Giselle, his attractive fifty- something second wife, had wrapped her arms around him in an attempt to calm him down. She took a Kleenex tissue from her bag and wiped the sweat from his brow and the corners of his mouth that were filled with white spittle. Powered by his dream, his arms shot out into the ‘on guard’ position; he began yelling at his adversary.

“There, there, liebchen, you’ve had a bad dream,” she said. “Wake up now, Sweetie, it’s time to go to the bank.”

Giselle continued to stroke her husband’s wet face until he shook awake and opened his eyes fearfully; he was grateful to be out of his dream. He rubbed his eyes and grunted, squeezing her hand. Then he painfully extricated his large frame from his seat and stared at the limousine door.

From the entryway at the top of the steps, the doorman at the Swiss Bank had been watching as the familiar white stretch limo rolled up. As had been the case for some time now, the chauffeur jumped out and held open the rear door for the old man to exit.

The man’s stooped figure slowly emerged from the darkness of the limousine. Before leaving, he turned around to acknowledge his wife

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Richard Bonte and Harman Harcourt Fleming III 5

who remained seated within. Then he slowly made his way up the steps to the old Germanic-style building.

The doorman noticed that the old man was stooping more and that his limp had progressively been worsening over the preceding months. It was almost as if the time the man spent reading–yet not finding what he was looking for–was bringing him down and his leg was bearing the brunt of this depression.

“Yes,” the doorman said to himself, “This old man is aging fast.”

When the old man finally got to the top of the stairs, the doorman held the door open and tipped his hat to him.

“Good morning, Sir.”

The old man grunted and continued hobbling to the reception desk. A pretty German-speaking receptionist was there to greet him.

“Good morning, Sir. We hope you’re feeling well today.”
“No I’m not! I’m not feeling well!”
“Oh dear, I’m so sorry. Anyway, if you would please follow me

to the boardroom. We have uncovered the last remaining documents and letters.”

The receptionist left her post to ensure the old man was properly cared for,

“I will arrange for coffee and pastries to be sent in.”

The old man grunted again although this time there was the faintest sign of a smile.

“Please ensure it is Colombian coffee.”

“Of course, Sir, you tell me every day. We always have your preferred coffee in stock.” For the first time in months, the receptionist had forgotten to check but she hoped this was true.

As he entered the boardroom, he saw a small pile of documents on the table and at the far end a face he didn’t recognize.

“Good morning, Sir, I am Herr Schnitzel, the new managing director of the Swiss branch of your bank.”

“Yes, I was told you’d be coming in today. But there was no need for you to personally involve yourself, especially on your first day.”

“I wouldn’t think of not being here, Sir. It is my profound pleasure to serve you. This is the last of your 1914-1918 personal

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documents that also refer to the pre-war years back to 1906. There is nothing more.”

“Are you sure there’s nothing more?” asked the old man in desperation. “I’ll go through these letters in no time. Are you saying I’ll have nothing more to look forward to?”

“Personal documents? No. There will be many bank memos and other types of ‘dryer’ material for you to look through, should you want to? But ‘personal’, no. Maybe you’ll find it today, Sir? Is there a particular letter you are looking for?”

The old man became very angry, “I can’t believe you just asked me that! Of course I am! I’ve been coming here for months looking and looking, and you ask me if I’m looking for something! Are you crazy? Are you nuts?”

The old man was red in the face and his thick brown lips were twisted into a furious grimace.

“Of course, Sir, I didn’t mean, I was only thinking, I-”

“You weren’t thinking, you knucklehead! Of course you weren’t thinking!! You were reacting, like all the young people today who don’t listen!”

The managing director’s lips started quivering as he stared stupidly back at the old man. What had he said that had angered him so?

In fury, the old man collapsed into a chair and sat there panting. He felt his heart beating at an all time high as he contemplated the inept managing director at his side.

Then he realized the younger man was only trying to do what was right in this awkward situation. The old man backed right down,

“I’m sorry, Herr Schnitzel,” the old man began, “The Great War was so awful you know–such a stupid, stupid war–and I’ve been looking and looking for a very important letter. Why haven’t I found it? And now I’ll only have a few letters left to sift through. I’m sorry, you can go.”

The managing director hesitated.

“It’s okay to leave,” continued the old man. “Please, I am sure you have far more important things to do than help an old man with his memories.”

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Richard Bonte and Harman Harcourt Fleming III 7

“Nothing is as important as your memories, Sir. I’m so sorry to have displeased you. I was only trying to help. Anyway, I will leave you in peace now. If you need anything, anything at all, this internal telephone will ring straight in my office. And let me just say that it is an honor to have one of the original partners here.”

“Yes, yes. Go, Herr Schnitzel! Thank you!”

Herr Schnitzel stepped out of the room quickly, anxious to get away from this World War I lunatic and thankful to have been let off the hook so easily.

Alone now, the man massaged his left leg as the pain from the old war wound returned. He’d been coming in for months looking for a letter, anything to let him know the truth. He’d been through most of his letters from 1906 to 1918. Only a small pile on the table remained.

He had desperately hoped to learn by now.

He had already spent countless hours going through all his personal correspondence. It had been a terribly cathartic process. But this afternoon he would discover the truth. He had to be optimistic. Just a few letters more.

It was imperative he find out.

He picked up one and started reading slowly. He couldn’t help but read slowly as if too fast a pace would take away the pleasure of his suffering and finish him off before his time. He looked out of the window with the tired eyes of someone who had suffered much. He would be in for a long afternoon as once again, the voices and images of the earlier years started to float back…

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