6

I awoke with a headache.

I had forgotten to redraw the curtains and the early morning sun streaming through the open windows was already hot. It was going to be a warm day. And I had a lot to do. At the first possible moment I must telephone to Beghin. Then I must put my plan into operation. I was pleased to find it appeared as foolproof now as it had in the darkness of the small hours. I began to feel better.

I was early down on the terrace, and as I ate my croissants and drank my coffee I congratulated myself. Here was I, a teacher of languages with a nervous disposition and a dread of violence, evolving within a few hours a neat, clever plan for the capture of a dangerous spy. And I had been harrying myself with fears of being unable to reach Paris by Monday morning! After my second cup of coffee even my headache began to disappear.

The Vogels were sitting down at their table as I passed on my way out. I stopped, and said good morning.

Then I noticed that they were both looking uncommonly serious. Their smiles as they acknowledged my greeting were automatic and very watery. Herr Vogel must have noticed my curious glance.

“We are not happy this morning,” he said.

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“We have had bad news from Switzerland.” He patted a letter lying on the table. “A dear friend has died. You must excuse us, please, if we seem a little distrait.”

“Naturally. I am very sorry.”

They were obviously itching to be rid of me. I passed on. Then other things drove them from my mind. I was being followed.

The post office was situated in the grocer’s shop at the bottom of the village. As I walked down the hill, I became conscious of a man sauntering along a few paces behind me. I stopped outside the first cafe and looked back. He had also stopped. It was the detective who had arrested me the day before. He nodded genially to me.

I sat down at one of the tables and he came over and sat two tables away. I beckoned to him. He moved up. His manner was friendly.

“Good morning,” I said. “I suppose you have been told to follow me?”

He nodded. “Unfortunately, yes. I find it very fatiguing.” He glanced down at his Sunday blacks. “This suit is very hot.”

“Then why do you wear it?”

His long, cunning, peasant’s face became suddenly solemn.

“I am in mourning for my mother. It is only four months since she died. She had a stone.”

The waiter approached.

“What will you have to drink?”

He thought for a moment, then asked for a limonade gazeuse. I told the waiter to get it, and stood up.

“Now then,” I said, “I am going to the post office down the street to telephone Monsieur Beghin. I shall be out of your sight for less than five minutes. You sit here and have your drink. I will join you on my return.”

He shook his head. “It is my duty to follow you.”

“I know, but everyone in the village will know that you are following me. I do not like that.”

A mulish look came into his face.

“My orders are to follow you. I am not to be bribed.”

“I am not attempting to bribe you. I am asking you to consider your own comfort and mine.”

He shook his head again.

“I know my duty.”

“Very well.” I walked out of the cafe and on down the street. As I went I heard him arguing with the waiter over the responsibility for the limonade gazeuse.

The telephone in the post office was public in every sense of the word. It was flanked on one side by a cascade of garlic sausages hanging from the ceiling; on the other side by a pile of empty meal sacks. There was no cabinet. As I cupped my hand round the transmitter and murmured “Police Station” into the mouthpiece, it seemed to me that the whole of St. Gatien stopped to listen.

“Poste Administratif,” said a voice at last.

“Monsieur Beghin?”

“Il est sorti.”

“Monsieur le Commissaire?”

“De la part de qui?”

“Monsieur Vadassy.”

“Ne quittez pas.”

I waited. Then the Commissaire’s voice came on.

“Hello! Vadassy?”

“Yes.”

“Have you anything to report?”

“Yes.”

“Telephone Toulon Ville eighty-three, fifty-five and ask for Monsieur Beghin.”

“Very well.”

He hung up. Evidently the Commissaires responsibility ended with seeing that I remained in St. Gatien. I asked for Toulon Ville 83–55. My request produced a curious effect. Within less than a minute I was connected. Another few seconds and I was speaking to Beghin. His voice squeaked irritably over the wire.

“Who gave you this number?”

“The Commissaire.”

“Have you obtained the information about the cameras?”

“Not yet.”

“Then why are you bothering me?”

“I have discovered something.”

“Well?”

“The German, Emil Schimler, is calling himself Paul Heinberger. I overheard a conversation between him and Koche which sounded suspicious. There is no doubt that Schimler is the spy and that Koche is his accomplice. Koche also visits a house in Toulon. He states that he has a woman there; but this may be untrue.”

Even as I said it I felt my self-confidence draining away like water from a sieve. How very stupid it all sounded. Over the wire came a sound that I could have sworn was a hastily suppressed laugh. But what followed showed me that I had been mistaken.

“Listen,” squeaked Beghin’s voice angrily, “you were given certain instructions. You were told to find out which of the guests had cameras. You were not asked to think or to play detectives. You had your instructions. They were clear and straightforward. Why have you not carried them out? Do you want to go back to your cell? I want no more of this nonsense. Return to the Reserve immediately, question the guests, and give me the information I require the moment you have it. In all other matters mind your own business. You understand?” He hung up abruptly.

The man behind the counter was looking at me curiously. In my anxiety to impress Beghin with the importance of discoveries I must have raised my voice. I scowled at him and left the shop.

Outside, red in the face with heat and annoyance, was my detective. As I stalked off furiously up the street he lumbered along at my elbow hissing in my ear that I owed him eighty-five centimes plus pourboire, one franc, twenty-five in all. I had commanded the limonade gazeuse, he kept repeating, it was my duty to pay for it. He himself would not have ordered a limonade gazeuse unless I had invited him to do so. He was not allowed expenses by the government. I must pay the one franc, twenty-five. There was eighty-five centimes for the limonade gazeuse with a pourboire of eight sous only in addition. He was a poor man. He knew his duty. He would not be bribed.

I scarcely heard him. So I was to question the guests and find out which of them had cameras! It was madness. Obviously the spy would take fright and leave. Beghin was a fool and I was in his hands. My whole existence depended upon him. Mind my own business! But the capture of the spy was my business. I had everything to lose if he escaped. One had always heard that Intelligence Departments were noted for their stupidity. Here was evidence of that fact. If I had to trust myself to Beghin and the Department of Naval Intelligence in Toulon my chances of getting to Paris on Monday were remote. No, I would do my own thinking. It was safer. Schimler and Koche must be unmasked. And I must do the unmasking. I would carry out my plan as I had originally intended. Beghin would look very foolish when I presented him with the evidence he needed. As for finding out about the cameras, well, I was not going to do any direct questioning. I would get the information; there was no harm in that. But I would get it discreetly.

“Eighty-five centimes plus a pourboire of eight sous…”

We had reached the gates of the Reserve. I gave the detective a two-franc piece and went in.

At the entrance I met the Skeltons coming out. They wore bathing suits and were carrying wraps, newspapers, and bottles of sun oil.

“Hallo there!” said he.

The girl smiled a greeting.

I said hallo.

“Are you coming down to the beach?”

“I’ll go and change and follow you down.”

“Don’t forget to bring your English with you,” he shouted after me, and I heard his sister telling him to “lay off the nice gentleman.”

A few minutes later I came down again and started across the gardens to the steps leading to the beach. Then I had my first piece of luck.

I had nearly reached the first terrace when excited voices were raised ahead. The next moment Monsieur Duclos appeared hurrying anxiously towards the hotel. A moment or two later Warren Skelton dashed up the steps and flew after him. As he passed by he flung a sentence over his shoulder. I caught the word “camera.”

I hurried down to the terrace. Then I understood the reason for the stampede.

Sweeping into the bay under full sail was a big white yacht. Men in white jeans and cotton sun-hats were running along her spotless deck. As I caught sight of her she came up into the wind. The sails fluttered and the mainsail crumpled as the gaff came down. The topsail, jib, and staysail followed and the bubbling water at her bow subsided into a long, deep ripple. An anchor chain clattered.

An admiring group clustered at the end of the terrace. There was Koche in bathing clothes, Mary Skelton, the Vogels, the two English, the French couple, Schimler, and a plump, squat woman in an overall whom I recognized as Madame Koche. Some of them had cameras in their hands. I hurried over to them.

Koche was squinting through the sights of a cine camera. Herr Vogel was feverishly winding a new film into position. Mrs. Clandon-Hartley was examining the yacht through a pair of field-glasses slung round her husband’s neck. Mademoiselle Martin was operating a small box camera under her lover’s excited direction. Schimler stood slightly apart, watching Koche work the cine camera. He looked ill and tired.

“Lovely, isn’t she?”

It was Mary Skelton.

“Yes. I thought your brother was chasing that old Frenchman up the path. I didn’t know what all the fuss was about.”

“He’s gone to fetch a camera.”

At this moment her brother appeared holding an expensive Kodak. “All this boyish enthusiasm!” he complained. “Why I should want to take pictures of somebody else’s yacht, I do not know.” Nevertheless, he took two shots of the yacht.

In his wake, clutching an enormous filmpack reflex of an ancient pattern, trotted Monsieur Duclos. Breathing heavily, he unfolded the hood of the reflex and clambered onto the parapet.

“Do you think he works with his beard inside that viewfinder or out?” murmured Skelton.

There was a loud clicking as Monsieur Duclos wound up the shutter of the reflex, a moment’s silence, then a soft crash as he released it. He scrambled off the parapet with a satisfied air.

“I bet he’s forgotten to put a plate in.”

“You’ve lost,” said the girl. “Let’s go back down.”

Major and Mrs. Clandon-Hartley were leaning over the parapet at the top of the steps. He nodded to me.

“Nice little craft, that. British built, by the look of her. Spent a leave yachting on the Norfolk Broads in ’17. Grand sport. Got to have money to do it like this, though. Ever go to the Broads?”

“No.”

“Grand sport. By the way, meant to introduce you to my good lady. This is Mr. Vadassy, my dear.”

She glanced at me impassively, indifferently; yet I had the impression that she was weighing me. I wished somehow that I had more clothes on. She smiled slightly with one side of her mouth and nodded. I bowed. I had an uncomfortable feeling that any form of verbal greeting would be regarded as an impertinence.

“We might have a game of Russian billiards later,” put in her husband breezily.

“Delighted.”

“Good. See you later.”

Mrs. Clandon-Hartley nodded curtly.

It was a dismissal.

I found the Skeltons lying on the sand under a sunshade at one corner of the beach. They made room for me and I sat down.

The girl sighed happily. “Say, Mr. Vadassy, did you ever see anything like those Switzers?”

I followed her gaze. Herr Vogel had mounted his camera on a long steel tripod. Blushing and giggling in front of the lens stood Frau Vogel. As I watched, Vogel operated the delayed action shutter and skipped round the tripod to strike a pose with his arm round his wife. There was a faint whir from the camera, the shutter clicked and the Vogels burst into roars of laughter. The dear, dead friend was evidently forgotten.

Watching these antics with undisguised amusement were the French couple and Koche. The latter glanced across at us to see if we had been watching. He walked over.

Skelton said: “Do you hire those two to entertain the guests?”

He grinned. “I’m thinking of asking them to stay on as a permanent attraction.”

“I get it. Les Deux Switzers. Good, clean fun and a laugh in every line. Straight from their New York success. Swell dressers on and off.”

Koche looked slightly bewildered, and was about to reply when the air was rent by a shrill call from the terrace above.

“Al-baire!”

I looked up round the edge of the sunshade. Madame Koche was leaning over the parapet, her hands cupped round her mouth.

“Al-baire!”

Koche did not look up.

“The voice from the minaret,” he remarked lightly, “calling the faithful to prayer.” With a nod to me he started towards the steps.

“You know,” commented Skelton dreamily, “if I were our Albert, I’d murder that old battle-axe.”

“Tut-tut!” murmured his sister, and to me: “How about a swim, Mr. Vadassy?”

Both she and her brother were excellent swimmers. By the time I had churned out fifty meters or so on my ponderous side-stroke they were paddling round the anchored yacht halfway across the bay. I swam slowly back to the beach.

The Swiss were now in the water. At least, Herr Vogel was in the water. Frau Vogel was lying on a rubber raft quivering with laughter while her husband cavorted round her, splashing furiously and yodeling at the top of his voice.

I went back to the sunshade and dried my hair on my wrap. Then I lay down and lit a cigarette.

The camera situation was becoming clearer. Mentally I sketched out the results of my observations.

I considered the last three names.

The two English were probably not the sort of people who took photographs. Mrs. Clandon-Hartley would probably disapprove. As for Herr Schimler, I was beginning to think that it was hardly worth while bothering to collect more evidence against him. Still, Beghin has asked for the information; he should have it. Koche? Well, we should see. I rolled over on my stomach out of the shadow of the sunshade. The sand was hot and the sun very strong. I draped a towel over my head. By the time the Skeltons, dripping and exhausted, rejoined me I was asleep.

Young Skelton poked me in the ribs.

“Time to eat,” he said.

The essence of all good plans, I reminded myself as I ate my lunch, was simplicity. My plan was simple, all right.

One of twelve persons had my camera. I had an identical camera belonging to that same one person. Beghin had pointed out that when and if that person discovered the loss of his or her photographs, he or she would be anxious to recover them. Now, for all that person knew, they were still in the camera. Therefore, if that person saw an opportunity of re-exchanging the cameras, he or she would certainly take it.

My idea was to plant the Contax I had in some conspicuous place at a time when all the guests would have an opportunity of seeing it, retreat somewhere whence I could see the camera without being seen and wait for results. If nothing happened it meant that the exchange of cameras had not yet been discovered. In that case no damage would be done. If something did happen, then I should know beyond doubt the identity of the spy.

I had given much thought to the question of where to set the trap. I had finally decided upon the chair in the hall on which the original exchange had been made. It was the logical spot and had the additional advantage of being easy to watch. In the writing-room that opened off the opposite side of the hall there was a small gilt-framed mirror, hanging from a hook in the wall and tilted slightly forward. By maneuvering one of the big armchairs in the room I could sit with my back to the door and see the hall chair in the mirror. It would be impossible to see me from the hall except by stooping down to chair level and looking through the writing-room door into the mirror. Nobody, however cautious, was likely to do that.

I finished my lunch hurriedly, left the terrace for the writing-room, and put the armchair in position. Then I fetched the camera. A minute later I sat down breathlessly to wait.

The other guests started to leave the terrace.

First came the Vogels. A longish interval followed. Then Monsieur Duclos walked past, removing a crumb from his beard as he went. There followed Roux and Mademoiselle Martin, Major and Mrs. Clandon-Hartley, and the Americans. Schimler came through last. I waited. If there were going to be any exchanging done, my own camera would have to be fetched first to replace the one on the chair.

Ten minutes went by. The clock on the mantelpiece chimed two. I stared at the mirror, trying not to blink lest in the infinitesimal fraction of a second during which my eyes were closed something should happen. The effort made my eyes water. Five past two. Once I thought a shadow moved across the room as though something or someone had passed by outside the window. But the sun was on the other side of the house, so that I could not say for certain. In any case, I was looking for something more substantial than shadows. Ten past two.

I was beginning to get bored. I had relied too much on theories. There had been too many “ifs” in my reasoning. My eyes were smarting with the strain. They began to wander.

There was a slight creak from somewhere behind me. I looked sharply in the mirror. There was nothing to be seen.

Then suddenly I leapt from the chair and hurled myself at the door. But I was not quick enough. My hand just missed it as it swung to. It slammed. A key turned quickly in the lock.

I tried the handle once, then looked round wildly. There was the window. I dashed over, fumbled for a second or two with the catch and flung it open. I trampled frantically over a couple of flowerbeds to the door of the hotel.

The hall was deserted and silent. The chair on which I had left the camera was empty.

My trap had worked. But it had caught me. I had lost the one piece of evidence that proved my own innocence.

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