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Villa Air-Bel

by Rosemary Sullivan

(HarperCollins, October 2006)


Crossroads Marseilles 1940
by Mary Jayne Gold

(Doubleday, 1980)
© Mary Jayne Gold, 1980, © Pierre Sauvage, 1998


Villa Air-Bel, Chapter 56, My Black Heart, verbatim below
and excerpts from Crossroads Marseilles 1940
from which the chapter is improperly derived

Elisions in the relevant excerpts from Mary Jayne Gold’s book—which are sometimes substantial—are indicated.  In order to allow a line-by-line comparison, paragraph breaks are disregarded in Villa Air-Bel.

There are seven footnotes for this chapter, despite the extent of the quotations and paraphrasing.  Four of them refer to Crossroads Marseilles 1940.  The three others refer to another book—although the material cited, as it happens, is also in Crossroads Marseille 1940Thus, there are no footnotes or other acknowledgments of the source for most of the material in this chapter, despite its obvious similarity to the corresponding sections in Crossroads Marseilles 1940.


Mary Jayne Gold, Crossroads Marseilles 1940
corresponding excerpts (page number indicated)

Rosemary Sullivan, Villa Air-Bel
full text of chapter 56, My Black Heart, pp. 385-390

Sometime around the middle of May [1941], Varian [Fry] took me aside and asked me to leave Air-Bel.  My [gangster] friends' activities in Marseille could compromise the Committee [Fry’s local committee.  [p. 356]  One day in the middle of May [1941], [Varian] Fry asked Mary Jayne [Gold] to leave the Villa Air-Bel. Her connections to Killer [Mary Jayne’s gangster boyfriend, Raymond Couraud, so nicknamed because he “murdered” the English language] and his friends were putting CAS [Fry’s local committee, the Centre Américain de Secours] at risk.

I agreed completely (…)  Varian tactfully suggested that I leave for the United States.  It was the advice of a friend, but I said I'd stay for a while.  [p. 356]

He thought it would be a good idea for her to return to the United States. This she was not ready to do but she immediately agreed to leave the villa.  Still, she worried about why Varian had waited until now to ask her.

[p. 347-348] [Killer tells Mary Jayne that the stool pigeon has been killed.]
“Who pulled the trigger?” I asked immediately.
“Oh no.  It wasn't me.  Don't worry.  It was Mathieu.  It was his role.  He's the chief.”
I was horrified at the crime [emphasis added] but relieved at the same time that it was not Killer who had actually done the shooting.  It took a moment for the full realization to penetrate my mind.  Then I began to tremble [emphasis added].  I told him he shouldn't have done it, that he was crazy and [p. 353] Mathieu was worse.  I don't know exactly what I said but I couldn't stop shaking [emphasis added]. (…)  When I asked him what they did with the body he said they had buried it in the garden of the château [Air-Bel]. (…)  As soon as [Killer and I] returned to Marseille [after a little trip,] I went straight to the château [the villa] and tramped over every square yard of Dr. Thumin's property. (...) I found no evidence of newly turned-over earth. (…) [p 354]  He [Killer] had just been kidding. 

Killer had previously told her an outrageous story.  He and Mathieu had assassinated a stool pigeon and they had buried the body on the villa’s grounds.  Her sense of reality was astonishingly askew. Not only had she believed Killer’s cock and bull story—she had walked the grounds of the park furtively looking for freshly turned earth—but she convinced herself not to question the morality of  “offing” a stool pigeon [emphasis added] who, supposedly, had set up Mathieu [Killer's boss in the gang], landing him in jail for a month. She believed Mathieu and not Killer had pulled the trigger. Her deepest concern seemed to be that Fry had learned of the story, which was why he was asking her to leave.

[p. 324] The [Georg] Bernhards [a prominent refugee couple] (…) were obviously preparing for an arduous journey. (…) A car would pick them up and drive them straight to Lisbon.  All this rather astonished me, (...) (Years later I learned that [p. 325] Mathieu was their contact.  It was he who had promised them the miracle car.  Had I been consulted I would have warned Fry to beware.) [Emphasis added.]

But after Mathieu had stolen that fifty thousand francs of CAS’s hard-earned money with his phony scheme of the diplomatic car, Fry had reason enough to be fed up with Mary Jayne’s continued association with her criminal friends.  [Emphasis added.]  Danny’s subsequent arrest at the end of May only confirmed that the committee had to be much more careful in their dealings with the Marseille gangs.

I (…) moved out with Dagobert to a little hotel just north of the Canebière, although I kept my room at the château (…). [p. 356]

With her dog, Dagobert, Mary Jayne moved into a small hotel just north of the Canèbiere [sic], though she kept her room at the villa.

In Marseille on my own again I saw Killer only intermittently and members of the Committee on occasion.  [p. 357]

She was mostly on her own, seeing Killer only now and then and members of the committee only occasionally.

I saw quite a lot of Laurette, Victor Serge's friend (...).  [p. 357]

She spent a good deal of time with Victor Serge’s companion Laurette Séjourné.

One Sunday afternoon I went to the château just to say hello.  (…) Theo greeted me as if she was glad to see me.  (…) Of Varian and Danny I only saw their backs.  [p. 357]

When she dropped by Air-Bel only her old friend Theo [Bénédite] seemed happy to see her.  Varian pointedly left the house whenever Mary Jayne arrived.

[p. 357]  He [Killer] was never sure of my feelings for him.  Several times (…) he asked me whether I loved him.  I answered of course I did.  This was far from the complete giving he wanted.  [p. 358, quoting Killer:]  “(…) Couldn't you say 'I love you'?  (…)”

Mary Jayne and Killer had become estranged. He claimed she refused to tell him she loved him, and that she held out on him.  And even though her so-called friends had abandoned her, she was still giving her money to the damned committee.

He [Killer] was coming to pick me up one day at the hairdresser's and arrived an hour too early to find me just about to go under the dryer  [p. 358]

One day she was in a beauty salon—living in a city strangled by rationing was no reason to neglect one’s coiffure—and Killer showed up.

He just sat down on the extra chair and eyed me with transparent hostility.  And he was a no-good punk, was he?  (…)  “I can be a real devil.  You'll see.”  (…) [p. 359]  And he was off.  [p. 358] 

Mary Jayne immediately noted his aggressive and hostile look.  He publicly accused her of considering him a "no-good punk," and left in a huff, saying: “I can be a real devil. You’ll see.”[1]

Again he was putting me through some test that he knew I would fail.  [p. 359]

She thought he was merely on one of his tirades, but in fact he was setting her up for what he was about to do

I was awakened from a fretful sleep a little while later.  It was Maurice [Marcel Verzeano], knocking on the door.  [p. 359]

That evening there was a knock on her door. It was Marcel Verzeano from CAS.

Killer had broken into my room and stolen all my jewelry.  Only Madame [Nouguet] and Maria had been in the house at the time.  [p. 359]

He had come to tell her that Killer had broken into her room at Air-Bel, terrifying the young Spanish maid Maria. He had turned the room upside down.

(…) Maurice accompanied me back to the villa.

Mary Jayne immediately took the tram to La Pomme [the location of the villa].

When I entered [the] room, which they had kept for me in spite of my expulsion, the whole place had been ransacked: clothes, books, and papers strewn all over.  The tiny drawers of the old desk in which I had kept my jewelry were open and one or two of them thrown on the floor.  [p. 359]

Her room was a shambles.  The contents of the drawers and armoire had been emptied.  As soon as she picked among the pile of her possessions, she realized that Killer had stolen her jewelry and many precious heirlooms.

[Before leaving for Air-Bel, after Verzeano had told her,]  As these facts slowly penetrated my consciousness I began to feel weak—as if I were going to fall over, broken and useless, never to be put together again.  [p. 359]

She could hardly believe it.  She was traumatized.

[pp. 359]  It was so hard to accept that Killer, for all his devilry, would [p. 360] do this to me. (...)

She never considered that he could do this to her.

I began to pick things up automatically, place the little drawers back, set the books on the shelf, as if I wanted to destroy the evidence even for myself.  [p. 359]

As if to erase the deed, she tidied the room, putting everything back in its place.

(...) Theo arrived back.  (…) Well, Mary Jayne,” she said as she threw her arms around me, “(...) You'd better spend the night here.  They won't hurt you anymore.”  [p. 360] 

Theo arrived back from the office and ran to console her. She threw her arms around the sobbing Mary Jayne and told her she'd better spend the night at the villa where she'd be safe.

[Sullivan here summarizes Mary Jayne Gold's account, mischaracterizing Gold.]

But Mary Jayne wasn’t yet done with Killer.  Now she decided she couldn’t leave him to navigate alone in Mathieu’s world.  She would save him yet. Besides, she wanted her jewelry back. To say that, for a woman in her thirties, Mary Jayne was immature and self-involved, would be a gross understatement. She was caught in a personal melodrama, in some kind of neurotic headlock.

Mathieu turned up in a car and said he wanted to help me recover the jewelry.  He thought he could locate [Killer].  He would get him to come to Cannes.  [p. 360] 

Inconceivably, Mathieu showed up at the villa with an atrocious story. He claimed the robbery had been Killer’s idea and offered to get the jewelry back. Of course Mary Jayne didn’t believe a word of this, but Mathieu could lead her to Killer and she needed to see Killer.  Mathieu said he would accompany her by train to Cannes, where he would demand Killer join them. 

Theo strongly advised me not to go out and put myself in the hands of those gangsters.  (...)  “(...) I'll stay at the Carlton.  They can't shoot me at the Carlton.”  [p. 360]

Theo was frightened for her when she learned of Mary Jayne’s plan to leave with Mathieu, but Mary Jayne told her not to worry. “I’ll stay at the Carlton," she said.  "They can’t shoot me at the Carlton.”[2]

As Mathieu helped me into the car outside the gate he said, “The reason I want to help you is that I am in love with you.”  [p. 360]  “Just give the word and I'll rub him out.  [p. 362]

During the trip to Cannes, Mathieu made protestations of love and offered to shoot Killer.  What he was up to Mary Jayne could scarcely fathom.  Perhaps he wanted the rich girlfriend for himself.

I answered, in character, with a high trilling fiddledeedee laugh of pleasurable surprise.  As I was, by this time, on the verge of hysterics, it was easy.  [p. 360] 

She put him off with hysterical giggles, which wasn’t hard since she was actually feeling quite hysterical.

[Sullivan here summarizes Mary Jayne Gold's account, mischaracterizing it.][p.363] Killer sprang to his feet and stood between Mathieu and the phone.  “ (…) You can all leave.  I am staying with Miss Gold.”
[p. 364] “I must have been crazy,” he kept saying.  “I'm sorry, so sorry.” 


In Cannes the melodrama worked itself out at the Hôtel Carlton just as one might have predicted.  Mary Jayne insisted on seeing Killer privately. With a great deal of finesse, he wormed his way back into her good graces. He said he must have been crazy. He’d been a fool. Mathieu had probably already fenced the jewelry, but he would get it back. The thing that really seemed to shock him was Mathieu’s offer to kill him.  Killer had always been a loyal lieutenant in Mathieu’s gang.
Mary Jayne finally got to play the starring role in her own gangster film. Or at least that’s how she remembered it.

“So you're threatening me,” I exclaimed [to Mathieu] (…), You can make a deserter from the Foreign Legion disappear, and no questions asked (…).  But you can't make me disappear.  [p. 360]  Headlines in the New York Times.”  (...) So hands off.  And hands off [Killer, whose real name was Raymond], or I'll go to the police.” [p. 360]They were all speechless, Killer speechless with admiration.  (…) “Tu es formidable, formidable,” he whispered.  I was so elated by my big scene that I had no time to be frightened.  [p. 369]

Later, when she and Killer met up with Mathieu in a local café, she took over.  She told Mathieu: “You can make a deserter from the Foreign Legion disappear, and no questions asked…. But you can’t make me disappear.  Headlines in the New York Times.... So hands off.  And hands off [Raymond], or I’ll go to the police.” As they walked out, Killer kept repeating: “Tu es formidable.”  Looking back with a certain degree of self-irony, she would say: “I was so elated by my big scene that I had no time to be frightened.” [3]

On the way back to the hotel, Killer insisted on walking in the middle of the almost deserted street instead of on the narrow sidewalks, so that no one could jump out at him from one of the doors.  Only then I realized that he and possibly I myself were in some danger.  [p. 369]

Mary Jayne, thirty-two, and Killer, just twenty, were playing dangerous games while the real tragedies of war swirled around them.

[Sullivan here summarizes Mary Jayne Gold's account, mischaracterizing Gold.]

It is difficult to understand her.  She seemed to believe that he was a soul mate and that in saving him, she was saving some orphaned part of herself.  Now that she had protected him from Mathieu, she had no illusions about the longevity of their relationship.
Both knew that Killer was in a precarious position.  It was clear that he had defected from the gang and that Mathieu would not stop looking for him. It was imperative for him to get out of Marseille. With an audaciousness that must have been offensive, Mary Jayne approached Varian Fry.

Varian refused politely, but instantly.  I don't blame him.  I only wish he had been more reluctant.  [p. 371

He [Varian] politely declined to lend the committee’s help. She wasn’t surprised he’d said no, but was rather hurt that he had done so without a moment’s hesitation.

I asked them all (…).  I always got the same answer.  They could not jeopardize their carefully built-up lines and preciously guarded secrets on a fellow like that.  [p. 371

She approached all the other members of the committee and was peremptorily refused.  How could they disclose their invaluable clandestine route to a guy like Killer?

When Charles finally did get back [from a trip] and I told him of Killer's predicament, he smiled his sad smile and said yes, he thought he could find someone, one of the politically minded Spaniards.  [p. 376]

Finally Mary Jayne found an ally in Charles Wolff from CAS. Without Fry’s knowledge, he located a Spanish guide who was willing, for a stiff price, to take Killer across the Pyrenees.

[p. 376]  He [Killer] kept saying, “All I want is to get to the British consulate in Barcelona.
[p. 372]  [Mary Jayne Gold;] “The British Army.  I thought you were going to join the Free French.”  [Killer:] “I'm going to be a British officer.  You'll see.”

Killer said all he needed to do was reach the British Consulate in Barcelona. He was going to join the British army and become a British officer.

He went over his story (…) “I am a British subject from Deux Pistoles on the Lower St. Lawrence River, Province of Quebec. (…)”  [p. 378]

He would explain his French accent by claiming he was a Canadian from Quebec and therefore a citizen of the British Empire.

He wanted me to join him in England and get into some kind of war work.  Even that no longer appealed to me (…).[p. 377] 

He wanted Mary Jayne to join him in England.  Surely there was war work she could do.  She demurred.

[p. 377]  The alarm was set for five-thirty (…).  [p. 378]  He turned and went toward the Spaniard.  (…) [p. 379]  I ran up to the room and was about to throw myself on the bed when I spotted a piece of paper under the water glass on the bed table.  I picked it up.  “I love you with all my black heart.  Think sweetly of me.—Killer.”

Killer slipped away with his Spanish guide one morning at dawn. He left Mary Jayne a note: “I love you with all my black heart. Think sweetly of me—Killer.”[4]

[H]e made the hundred miles from the border to the British consulate in Barcelona (…).  He was warmly received—and given a certificate stating he was a British subject.  [p. 380]

In Spain he managed to get to Barcelona and the consulate, where, with no trouble, he was given the certificate he needed stating he was a British subject.

[p. 379]  For the next few days I lay low, waiting to hear that Killer had reached Gibraltar.
[p. 380]  Soon letters and telegrams began to arrive for me and Theo from the internment camp of Miranda del Ebro, British Section, Burgos, Spain.  Killer was demanding money from the Committee, stating he had lent some to Klaus Dorn and Dobos, both clients of Emergency Rescue [the “committee”].  Everybody was frantic, convinced that this was the evidence the police wanted to implicate them in helping refugees, British soldiers, and Gaullist dissidents to escape.  I had to wire Killer a curt telegram: “Have no money.  Don't wire Fry.  Writing.”

But he was picked up as he was making his way to Gibraltar and, like many British soldiers caught in Spain without transit visas, he was put in the concentration camp Miranda-del-Ebro, British Section.
Soon after, Mary Jayne and even Theo at CAS began receiving demands for money from Killer.  He claimed to have lent the money Mary Jayne had given him to some of the committee’s clients at the internment camp, and was demanding more.  The committee was thrown into a panic.  Such wires were all the confirmation the police needed to prove that CAS had been illegally helping refugees and British officers escape France. Mary Jayne wrote a frantic telegram telling Killer to shut up.

I sent him the money through the Unitarian Service Committee (…).[p. 384]

But she sent him more money through the Unitarian Service Committee.

He was transferred to Gibraltar and thence to England at the end of October.  [p. 384]

Before long, Killer was transferred to Gibraltar.  On October 1941 he made it to England.

[p. 384]  [Letter from Killer:]  “...I'm now in the British Army, and now...hold on.  I will get my commission as First Lieutenant next Monday!  All my dreams have been realized at once.”  He begged me not to tell my English friends, who had been so kind to him, that he had behaved badly toward me in Marseille.  [p 385]  (…) If you could be [someplace] in January, my God what a joy to see you again and you would see the new Jacques in all the grace of his new uniform.”

In no time, he received a commission as lieutenant in the British army.  He wrote to Mary Jayne:  “All my dreams are realized….I beg you not to say anything to your English friends, who have been so kind to me, about how awful I was to you in Marseille….If you could only see the new Raymond in all the splendor of his new uniform!”[5]

A few months later: “I'm in the Paratroopers.... (…)  [p. 385]

Eventually Killer became a paratrooper.

[He] and certain other commandos were England's heroes, wined and dined in London and in the country houses of the sceptered isle.  On one such weekend (…) [O]ld Lord Dickie [Mountbatten] (…) was also there.  [p. 386] 

He and other members of the elite commandos became the darlings of English upper-class society.  Using Mary Jayne’s friendships and contacts, he was soon referring to weekends at country estates at which “Lord Dickie” [Mountbatten] was the featured guest.

Soon he [Killer] was writing in English.  [p. 385]

His English had improved dramatically.

Oddly enough, he revealed himself to be quite a snob.  [p. 372]

Much to Mary Jayne’s surprise, Killer, it turned out, was a snob.

Killer was badly wounded at St.-Nazaire, recovered, and was parachuted many times behind the lines.  [p. 386]

In the end, Mary Jayne was vindicated in her judgment of Raymond Couraud.  He became a hero.  His temperament of bravado and derring-do was brilliantly suited to war.  He was seriously wounded at the infamous Battle of St. Nazaire, where a force of 611 British seaborne commandos launched a raid against the German-controlled shipyards. Even after he recovered he was parachuted many times behind enemy lines.

[Letter from Killer:]  “...I was the first British officer in Paris [two days after it fell]. (…)  [p. 386]

He claimed to be one of the first British officers to march with his squadron down the Champs-Élysées after Paris was liberated.

Then I took my squadron to a hotel and then...drove to your apartment (I remembered the address).  (…) I sat on one of the red chairs in the dining room, smoking cigarettes with my heart so big and sad.  The Boche that was living there left it in perfect order, and what's more left you a lovely grand piano in the drawing room.  [p. 386]

He wrote Mary Jayne that, on that very afternoon, he made a pilgrimage alone to her old apartment near the Bois de Boulogne, where he sat in her dining room and once more berated himself for his betrayals. The Boche [sic] who had occupied her apartment had left it in pristine condition and had even added a grand piano. It was ready and waiting for her return.[6]

Killer ended up a major in the Second Regiment of the Special Airborne Services (...).  He won the Military Cross for gallantry in battle (…) .[p. 386]

By the time the war was over, Raymond Couraud had achieved the rank of major in the Second Regiment of the Special Airborne Services and had earned the Military Cross for bravery in battle.  He was twenty-four years old.

With Killer out of the way, they were all more friendly (…)  Everybody was very polite and tolerant about my past relations with Killer. (...) [p. 381]

By the middle of June, Mary Jayne concluded it was finally time to leave France.  With Killer gone, the villa’s residents had gradually become friendlier.  They never mentioned Raymond Couraud [Killer].

I had no trouble getting my visas but it all took time.  [p. 383]  At the end of June, Varian wrote Miriam: “...Mary Jayne and Dagobert are leaving tomorrow (…).”  (…) I was sad saying good-bye to my friends (…).  [p. 381]

By the end of June, she had secured all the necessary papers and prepared her good-byes.

I was at last back in the good graces of the Committee and left loaded with secret messages wrapped in condoms and inserted into tubes of toothpaste and face cream.  They were destined for members of the Carlos underground railway in Madrid and Mr. Darling of British Intelligence in Lisbon.  [p. 383]

She was pleased when the committee showed enough confidence in her to give her a final assignment. Carrying condoms inserted inside tubes of toothpaste and face cream, she left with secret messages for British Intelligence in Lisbon.  She encountered no difficulties getting these through.

Even my limited contact with Breton and with surrealism made me aware that in this universe there were many possibilities, many veils to be lifted.  I only wish the exposure had been longer or more concentrated (…).  [p. 311]

In her memoir Crossroads Marseilles, when she examined her Marseille experience years later, she expressed regret at having missed the opportunity to know André Breton better.

Comment.  Although Crossroads Marseilles 1940 is the exclusive basis for a major portion of Villa Air-Bel, this is the only acknowledgement of the book's existence outside the occasional footnotes.  (The title is given incorrectly.)

Living under the same roof with Breton was indeed an inner voyage of discovery.  [p. 250]

Breton had made life feel like a voyage of inner discovery.

If I seemed to have outlived my usefulness to the Committee (…). [p. 354]

She regretted, through her own fault, never having been fully accepted by the committee and not having been as useful as she could have been.

I never told anyone I was succoring a delinquent boy.  [p. 381]

But she never regretted “succouring” (as she put it) that “delinquent boy.”[7]

Killer and I kept in touch throughout the war, and after.  In Lisbon I continued to get letters—love letters, with an account of his situation and needs.  [p. 384]

They remained in contact over the years.  Raymond would write of his love for her and tell her about his current love affairs.

These were his [Killer’s] glorious years and he always said I had given them to him.  [p. 386] The war years had been his glorious years and he was always grateful to her for giving him this gift.

Comment.  Mary Jayne Gold’s words cited here are the last words of her book.  Rosemary Sullivan ends her chapter (and her account of Mary Jayne and Killer) with virtually the same words.

Example chapter The Villa Bel-Air
Back to Villa Air-Bel by Rosemary Sullivan

[1] Gold, Crossroads Marseilles, 1940,. p. 358.
[2] Ibid., p. 360.
[3] Ibid., p. 368-69.
[4] Flamand, L’Inconnu du French Squadron, p. 57
[5] Ibid, p. 58.
[6] Ibid, p. 139.
[7] Gold, Crossroads Marseille, 1940,  p. 381.

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