12

I did not eat much lunch.

For one thing, my head had begun to ache again; for another, I received with my soup a message from Koche. The manager would be grateful if Monsieur Vadassy could spare the time to call in at the office after luncheon. Yes, Monsieur Vadassy could and would spare the time. But the prospect disturbed me. Supposing Koche had decided that some “poor little underpaid chambermaid” was the culprit. What was I supposed to do? The idiotic Beghin had made no allowances for that contingency. The wretched girl would naturally deny the charge. What could I say? Was I to stand by and see some perfectly innocent person browbeaten by a zealous Koche and accused of a theft that had not taken place? It was an abominable state of affairs.

But I need not, as it happened, have worried about that. The chambermaid was perfectly safe.

Monsieur Duclos pounced on me as I left the terrace.

“Have you decided to call in the police, Monsieur?”

“Not yet. I am going to see Koche.”

He stroked his beard gloomily. “I have been thinking, Monsieur. Every hour we delay is in the thief’s favor.”

“Quite so. But…”

“Speaking as a businessman, I counsel immediate action. You must be firm with Koche, Monsieur.” He thrust his beard forward ferociously.

“I shall be very firm, Monsieur, I…”

But before I could get away the Vogels came up, shook hands with me and expressed their sorrow at my loss. Monsieur Duclos was not in the least put out by this evidence of his treachery.

“We have agreed, Monsieur Vogel and I,” he stated, “that the Commissaire of Police should be called in.”

“Five thousand francs,” nodded Herr Vogel weightily, “is a serious loss. A matter for the police, without a doubt. Monsieur Roux is of the same opinion. There is the safety of the other guests’ property to be considered. Mademoiselle Martin, a young lady of nervous disposition, is already frightened for her jewels. Monsieur Roux calmed her, but he informed me that unless the thief is discovered he will be forced to leave. Koche will be well advised to treat the matter more seriously. Five thousand francs!”-he requoted Monsieur Duclos’s version of my loss-“It is a serious thing.”

“Yes, indeed!” said Frau Vogel.

“You see!” put in Monsieur Duclos triumphantly, “the police must be called in.”

“With regard,” pursued Herr Vogel in a whisper, “to the question of your suspicions, Herr Vadassy, we feel that at the moment the police should not be told of them.”

“My suspicions?” I glanced at Monsieur Duclos. He had the grace to avoid my eye and fumble a little ostentatiously with his pince-nez.

Herr Vogel smiled indulgently. “I understand perfectly. It would be better to say nothing that might be construed as referring to”-he looked round swiftly and lowered his voice-“a certain person of English nationality, eh?” He winked. “These affairs must be handled with discretion, eh?”

“Yes, yes!” echoed Frau Vogel cheerfully.

I mumbled something about having no suspicious at all and made my escape. Monsieur Duclos was proving a rather compromising publicity agent.

Koche was waiting for me in the office.

“Ah, yes, Monsieur Vadassy, please come in.” He shut the door behind me. “A chair? Good. Now to business.”

I played my part. “I hope, Monsieur, that you have satisfactory news for me. This suspense is most distressing.”

He looked very grave.

“I am very much afraid, Monsieur, that my inquiries have yielded no result whatever.”

I frowned. “That is bad.”

“Very bad. Very bad, indeed!” He glanced at a paper before him, tapped it once or twice with his forefinger and looked up at me. “I have examined every member of the staff, including the waiters and the gardener, hoping that one of them might, at any rate, be able to throw some light on the affair.” He paused. “Frankly, Monsieur,” he went on quietly, “I feel that they are all telling me the truth when they say that they have no knowledge of the theft.”

“You mean that it must have been one of the guests?”

He did not reply for a moment. I began, for no reason that I could identify, to feel even more uneasy. Then he shook his head slowly. “No, Monsieur, I do not mean that it was one of the guests.”

“Then someone from outside?”

“Nor that either.”

“Then…?”

He leaned forward. “I have decided, Monsieur, that this is a case for the police.”

This was difficult. Beghin had made it clear that the police were not to be called in.

“But surely,” I protested, “that is the last thing you would wish to do. Think of the scandal.”

His lips tightened. This was a new Koche, no longer easygoing and good natured, a very businesslike Koche. There was, quite suddenly, an ugly tension in the atmosphere.

“Unfortunately,” he said bitingly, “the damage is already done. Not only are my guests aware of and discussing the affair, but one of them is actually being regarded by the others as a possible culprit.”

“I am sorry to hear that, I-”

But he ignored my interruption. “I asked you, Monsieur, to remain silent until I could investigate this matter. I find that, far from remaining silent, you have discussed the affair with your fellow guests in the most unfortunate manner.”

“I asked the advice in confidence of Monsieur Duclos relating to the question of informing the police. If Monsieur Duclos has been indiscreet, I am sorry.”

There was something very much like a sneer in his voice as he answered. “And what, pray, was Monsieur Duclos’s advice?”

“He advised me to call in the police, but out of deference to your-”

“Then, Monsieur, we are in perfect agreement. You have your opportunity.” He reached for the telephone. “I will communicate with the police at once.”

“One moment, Monsieur Koche!” His hand paused on the instrument. “I merely repeated Duclos’s advice. For my part I see no necessity for calling in the police.”

To my intense relief he took his hand from the telephone. Then he turned slowly and looked me in the eyes.

“I thought you wouldn’t,” he said deliberately.

“I feel sure,” I said, with all the amiability I could muster, “that you will handle this affair far more efficiently than the police. I do not wish to make a nuisance of myself. If the stolen articles are returned, well and good. If not-well-it cannot be helped. In any case, the police will be more of a hindrance than a help.”

“I believe you, Monsieur.” This time there was no doubt about the sneer. “I can quite believe that you would find the police a very grave hindrance.”

“I don’t think I understand you.”

“No?” He smiled grimly. “I have been in the hotel profession for a number of years, Monsieur. You will not, I feel sure, think me impolite if I tell you that I have encountered gentlemen of your persuasion before. I have learned to be careful. When you reported this alleged theft you told me that you had lost a cigarette-case. Later, when I suggested to you that you had described it as a gold case, you hesitated and got out of your difficulties by saying that it was both gold and silver. A little too ingenious, my friend. When I went into your room I noticed the blade of a pair of scissors lying on the floor by the suitcase. On the bed was the rest of the scissors. You looked at them twice, but did not comment on them. Why? They had obviously been used to force the case. They were important evidence. But you ignored them. You saw nothing significant in them because you knew how the case had been forced. You had forced it yourself.”

“Preposterous! I-”

“Again, you showed real concern when the camera was mentioned. When I pointed it out to you on the chair your emotion was quite genuine. No doubt you were afraid for the moment that something really had been stolen.”

“I-”

“You made another mistake over the valuation of the case. A case such as you described would be worth at least fifteen hundred francs. True, you said it was a gift, but even so you would scarcely undervalue it by fifty per cent. People who have lost things invariably go to the other extreme.”

“I have never-”

“The only thing that has puzzled me is your motive. The usual idea is for the injured guest to threaten the hotel with the police and the discomfiture of the other guests unless he or, more often she, receives compensation. It is well known that hotels are insured against such contingencies. But you are either new to the game or you have some other motive, for you told the guests immediately. Perhaps you would like to tell me what your motive really is.”

I had risen to my feet. I was genuinely angry now.

“This is a monstrous accusation, Monsieur. I have never been so insulted,” I stammered with rage. “I… I shall…”

“Call in the police?” he put in solicitously. “Here is the telephone. Or perhaps you do not wish to call in the police.”

I put on as dignified a front as possible. “I have no intention of prolonging this farce.”

“You are wise.” He tilted his chair. “I have had suspicions of you, Vadassy, since your rather lengthy interview with the police on Thursday. The French police do not usually search a person’s room unless they have very grave suspicions of him. The passport explanation was a little thin. I can appreciate your anxiety to avoid further encounters with the Commissaire. I am also in complete agreement with you concerning the undesirability of prolonging the present situation. I have, accordingly, made out your bill. Please do not interpret this as an act of mercy on my part. My own personal inclination is to hand you straight over to the police; or at any rate to tell you to clear out within an hour. My wife, however, is of the opinion that either of those courses would arouse still further comment among our guests. She is a more practical person than I am. I bow to her decision. You will leave the Reserve early tomorrow morning. Whether or not I then inform the police depends on your behavior during the brief time you remain here. I shall expect you to inform the other guests that your complaint was unfounded, that you had merely mislaid the articles and that the damage to your suitcase was caused by your own carelessness in using the wrong key and jamming the locks. I have no doubt that you will be able to make your story convincing enough for inexperienced ears. It is understood?”

I did the best I could with the few shreds of self-possession that were left to me. “I understand perfectly, Monsieur. I had, in any case, no intention of staying here after your fantastic behavior.”

“Good! Here is your bill.”

I studied the bill ostentatiously for mistakes. It was a childish thing to do, but by this time I felt childish. He waited in silence. There were no mistakes. I had only just enough money. He took it with an air that told me that he had not expected to be paid in full.

While he was making out the receipt I stared blankly at an Istalia Cosulich Line sailing list pinned to the wall beside me. I had read it through twice before he handed me the receipted bill.

“Thank you, Monsieur. I regret that I cannot hope that we shall see you again at the Reserve.”

I went.

By the time I had got up to my room I was trembling from head to foot. The discovery that the towels, the fruit bowl, and every other portable object belonging to the Reserve, with the sole exception of the bedclothes, had been removed did not improve matters. I put my head under the tap, drank some water, lit a cigarette, and sat on the chair by the window.

I began to think of things I ought to have said to Koche, cool, bitter things. Then, after a bit, I ceased to tremble. This was Beghin’s fault, not mine. He might have known that such a childish plot would fail. True it was my carelessness, my inefficiency, that had brought about its failure; but I was not used to behaving like a common crook. A wave of righteous anger swept over me. What right had Beghin to place me in such a despicable position? If I had been an ordinary person with a consul to defend my rights he would not have dared. Where was the sense in it, anyway? Or had it been his idea that I should be found out? Was I a sort of guinea pig being used for the purpose of some crazy experiment? Maybe I was. What did it matter, anyway? The point was that unless Beghin liked to step in and exert his authority I should be out of the Reserve in the morning. What then? Presumably a cell at the Commissariat. Perhaps I should telephone to Beghin now and explain the situation…

But even as the thought crossed my mind I knew that I could not do it. The truth was that I was afraid of him, afraid that he might blame me for my discovery by Koche. Above all, I was terrified of being taken back to the Commissariat and locked up again in that small, ugly cell.

I looked out of the window. The sea lay like a great sheet of rippled blue glass in the sun. It was infinitely peaceful. In its cool depths a man would have no more fears, no doubts, no uncertainties. I could go down to the beach and into the water and swim out beyond the bay into the sea. I could go on swimming until my arms were too tired to bring me back to the land. My strokes would get slower, more labored. Then I would stop and sink. The water would rush into my lungs. I would struggle, the desire for life would surge up-life at any price! — but I should have made my preparations so that there would be no returning. There would be a moment or two of torment, then I should slide gently into oblivion. And what then? A Yugoslav citizen named Joseph Vadassi (they would misspell the name) got into difficulties while bathing yesterday at St. Gatien. Attempts to rescue him failed. His body has not yet been recovered. Nothing else? No, nothing else. That was all. The body rotted.

My cigarette had gone out. I pitched it out of the window, went over to the mirror in the wardrobe, and looked at myself. “You’re going to pieces,” I murmured. “Better pull yourself together. Suicide one minute and now you’re talking to yourself. Come on now. And don’t be so damned hearty about it. It’s no good squaring your shoulders like that. You’re not going in for a weight-lifting contest. Muscle’s no use to you. What you need is a little intelligence. This business probably isn’t nearly as serious as you think. And for goodness’ sake get this. It’s about three o’clock. Between now and tonight you’ve got to find a person here with a Contax camera. That’s all. It isn’t difficult, is it? You’ve only got to look in their rooms. Now start with this man Schimler. He’s the most likely. He’s going under a false name. He says he’s a Swiss when he’s really a German. He’s worried and he’s got some understanding with Koche. You’ve got to bear in mind, too, that Koche may be in on the secret. Maybe that’s the real reason why he’s anxious to get rid of you without calling in the police. Yes, that’s an idea, isn’t it? You’re not beaten yet. But be careful. Use a little sense. You’ve been caught out once. Don’t let it happen again. If he’s the man, you’ve got to be clever to catch him. He’s dangerous. He’s the man who slugged you on the head last night and gave you this damnable headache. You know his room number. The girl gave you that. Number fourteen, and it’s on the other side of the house. But first find out where he is. You’ve got to be careful! Now, get busy.”

I turned away from the mirror. Yes, I must get busy. I must know where Schimler was. He usually sat by himself on the terrace. I would try there first.

I got to the lounge without meeting anyone, and tiptoed over to the window. Yes, there he was, reading as usual, his pipe in his mouth, his head bent forward over the book in an attitude of concentration. For a moment I watched him. It was a fine head. It didn’t seem possible that this man could be a spy.

But this time I hardened my heart. Get busy! It probably wouldn’t seem possible that anyone was a spy-until you knew for certain that he was. Anyway, it was my liberty or someone else’s. Schimler was undoubtedly a suspicious character. Very well, then!

I went upstairs again. Outside my own room I paused. Was there anything I wanted? A weapon? Nonsense! this wasn’t going to be that sort of affair; just a quiet examination of the room, that was all. My heart beating furiously, I went on past my own room, along the passage. Then a new fear took hold of me. Supposing I met someone! The Skeltons or the Vogels! How should I explain my presence here? What was I supposed to be doing? Then I passed a door labeled Salle de Bain. If necessary I could go in there and pretend to be having a bath. But I met nobody. A few moments later I was outside room number fourteen.

Bridging the gulf between thought and action is often a very arduous process. It is easy to contemplate searching someone’s room-standing before the mirror I had had no qualms-but when it comes to the mechanics of the business, the actual entry into the room, it is far from easy. It is not merely the fear of discovery that deters. It is the sense of privacy that is violated. There is a strange door, a strange door-handle and, beyond it, part of another person’s life. To open the door seems as inexcusable an intrusion as spying on a pair of lovers.

I stood there for a second or two fighting down this sense of guilt, rationalizing it into all sorts of minor objections. Perhaps Mary Skelton had been mistaken; perhaps this was the wrong room. It was too soon after lunch; I should have given Schimler longer to settle down. It was a waste of time; he would have hidden the camera. The door might be locked and someone might come along just as I was trying it. Someone might…

There was only one way to deal with this. I would make no attempt to go in stealthily. If the room were occupied or anyone saw me, then I had made a mistake. Monsieur Skelton had asked me to call in when I was ready to bathe. The wrong room? I was sorry. I would retire. That was unless it was one of the Skeltons who saw me. But if I stood outside here much longer I should be seen, anyhow. Drawing a deep breath, I rapped on the door, grasped the handle and turned it. The door was unlocked. Still standing on the threshold, I pushed it and let it swing open. The room was empty. I waited a second, then walked in and shut the door behind me. The deed was done.

I glanced round. The room was smaller than mine and looked out over the outhouse containing the kitchens. A clump of young cypresses near the window shut out a good deal of light. Keeping as far away from the window as possible, I looked for Schimler’s suitcase. It did not take me long to establish the fact that there wasn’t one. Perhaps he had transferred the contents to the chest of drawers and had the case taken to the storeroom. I tried the drawers. All, with the exception of the top one, were empty. The top drawer contained a white and very much laundered shirt, a gray tie, a small pocket-comb, a pair of socks with large holes in the heels, a set of clean but crumpled underclothes, a packet of soap flakes, and a tin of French tobacco. There was no camera. I looked at the label on the tie. It bore the name and address of a Berlin manufacturer. The underclothes were of Czechoslovakian origin. The shirt was French. I went over to the washbasin. The razor, shaving soap, toothbrush and paste were also French. I turned to the cupboard.

It was wide and deep, with a row of coat-hangers on a brass rail and a rack for shoes. There was one suit and a black raincoat in it. Nothing else. The suit was dark gray and threadbare at the elbows. The raincoat had a triangular tear near the bottom.

This, then, with the contents of the drawer, was “Herr Heinberger’s” wardrobe. Very odd! If the man had sufficient money to stop at the Reserve surely he would have more clothes than this?

That, however, was beside the point. I was looking for a camera. I felt under the mattress, but this yielded nothing but a scratch on the hand from a projecting spring end. The room had begun to get on my nerves. I had failed to find what I had come for. It was time I went. There was, however, just one more thing that I wanted to do.

I went back to the cupboard, took the suit down and looked in the pockets. The first two I felt were empty; but in the breast pocket my fingers encountered what felt like a thin paper-covered book. I pulled it out. It was not one book, but two, and both were passports-one German and one Czech.

I examined the German one first. It had been issued in 1931 to Emil Schimler, journalist, born in Essen in 1899. This was in itself surprising. I had assessed Schimler at well over forty. I turned to the visa pages. Most of them were blank. There were, however, two visas for France dated 1931 and a set of Soviet visas dated 1932. He had spent two months in Soviet Russia. There was also a Swiss visa for the previous December and a French one for May of that year. I turned to the Czech passport.

It contained an unmistakable photograph of Schimler, but was issued in the name of Paul Czissar, commercial representative, born in Brno in 1895. The date of issue was August 10, 1934. It contained a large number of German and Czech visa stamps. Herr Czissar seemed to have traveled extensively on the Berlin-Prague line. After a little trouble I managed to decipher the most recent date stamp. It was for January 20 of the current year-just about eight months ago.

I was so engrossed with these significant discoveries that I did not hear the footsteps until they were practically outside the door. Even if I had have heard them I doubt whether I should have been able to do anything more. As it was, I just had time to cram the passports back into the pocket and bundle the suit into the cupboard behind me before the handle of the door turned.

In the few split seconds that followed, my brain and body seemed to go numb. I stood and gaped stupidly at the handle. I wanted to shout, hide in the cupboard, jump out of the window, scramble under the bed. But I did none of those things. I just gaped.

Then the door swung open and Schimler came into the room.

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