17

I was taken to the Commissariat in a closed car driven by a third agent.

I suppose that this fact should have surprised me. Arrested men are not usually afforded the luxury of a car to convey them to a police poste no more than half a kilometer away. But it did not surprise me. Nothing short of a civic reception by the mayor and corporation of St. Gatien would have surprised me. It had come. That which I had known all along in my heart would happen, had happened. I was under arrest again. My parole had been withdrawn. This, then, was the end. True, I had not expected quite so dramatic an exit from the Reserve; but, all things considered, it was probably better this way-I had at least been spared another night of suspense. It was almost a relief to feel that I had to think for myself no longer, that Monsieur Mathis’s sarcasms could no longer touch me, that I could do nothing but acquiesce.

I wondered what the Skeltons were thinking about it all. It must have been a shock to them. Duclos, of course, would be beside himself with excitement. He would probably be telling the others that he’d known about me all along. Schimler? That did worry me a little. I would have liked him to have known the truth. As for the rest… Koche would not be surprised. The Major, however, would be horrified. He would probably advocate a firing squad. Roux, no doubt, would laugh unpleasantly. The Vogels would click their tongues and look solemn. And yet one of them would be thinking hard, one of them would know that I was neither a spy nor dangerous. That man, the man who had slammed the writing-room door, who had searched my room and taken two spools of film, who had knocked me down, whose fingers had fumbled in my pockets; he would go scot free, while I rotted in prison. What would his thoughts be like? Triumphant? What did it matter? What did it matter what any of them thought? Nothing. All the same, it would be interesting to know which of them really was the spy-very interesting. Well, I should have plenty of time in which to make my guesses.

The tires grated on the shingle square in front of the Commissariat. I was taken into the waiting-room with the wooden forms. As before, an agent waited with me. This time, however, I did not attempt to talk. We waited.

The hands of the clock in the room had crept round to half past ten before the door opened and Beghin came in.

So far as I could see he still had on the same tussore suit that he had been wearing three days previously. In his hand was the same limp handkerchief. He was still sweating profusely. One thing only surprised me. He seemed to be smaller than I had imagined. For the first time I realized what a monster my thoughts had made of him. In my imagination he had grown into an ogre, a foul, corrupt colossus of evil preying upon the innocent who crossed his path-a devil. Now I saw before me a man, fat and gross and sweating, but a man.

For a moment the small, heavy-lidded eyes stared down at me as though he were unable to remember who I was. Then he nodded to the agent. The man saluted, went out of the room and shut the door behind him.

“Well, Vadassy, have you enjoyed your little holiday?” Once again the high-pitched voice took me unawares. I stared back at him coldly.

“I am to be the scapegoat after all, eh?”

He bent down, pulled one of the forms away from the wall and sat down on it, facing me. The wood creaked under his weight. He wiped his hands on the handkerchief.

“It’s been very warm,” he said, and then glanced up at me. “What did they do when you were arrested?”

“Who, the agents? ”

“No, your fellow guests.”

“They did nothing.” I heard my own voice develop an edge to it. I knew, somehow, with half my brain, that I was losing my temper and that I could not help doing so. “They did nothing,” I repeated. “What would you expect them to do? Duclos wanted to know what the charge was. Frau Vogel screamed. Otherwise they just looked. I don’t suppose they’re used to seeing people arrested.” My temper rose suddenly to boiling point. “Though I expect that if they stayed long enough in St. Gatien they would get used to it. Next time one of the fishermen gets drunk and beats his wife you might try arresting Vogel. Or would that be too dangerous? Would the Swiss consul have something to say? Perhaps he would. Or wouldn’t the Department of Naval Intelligence have enough intelligence to see that? Do you know, Beghin, that when you talked to me in that cell three days ago I actually thought that, although you might be a bullying blackguard of a policeman, it was possible that you had some sense. I thought that even if you did threaten and ask insane questions, you at least knew what you were doing. I have found since that I was wrong. You haven’t any sense and you don’t know what you’re doing. You’re a fool. You’ve blundered so many times that I’ve lost count of them. If I hadn’t had a little sense and interpreted your instructions in my own way, your…”

He had been listening calmly; now he got to his feet, his fist drawn back as though he were about to strike me. “If you hadn’t what? ” he shouted savagely.

I did not flinch. I felt reckless and vindictive.

“I see you don’t like the truth. I said that if I hadn’t interpreted your instructions in my own way your precious spy would have taken fright and bolted. You told me to question the guests about their cameras. A lunatic would have seen that that was a fatal mistake.”

He sat down again. “Well, what did you do?” he said grimly: “Fake the information for me?”

“No, I used some sense. You see”-this bitterly-“in my simple innocence I thought that if I could get the information you required without jeopardizing the chances of catching the spy when he had been identified, I should receive some consideration at the hands of the police. If I had known just how badly you were going to bungle your end of the business, I doubt if I should have bothered. However, I obtained the information about the cameras by the simple process of using my eyes. When, as was inevitable, the fake robbery was discovered to be a fake, I managed to retrieve the situation by confusing the others’ minds sufficiently to make them-or at any rate most of them-accept the story that the whole thing was a mistake. Now, of course, the fat is in the fire. This time I can’t retrieve your mistake. You’ve given the alarm. The Clandon-Hartleys are leaving tomorrow in any case. I don’t suppose any of them will care to stay after this. You’ve lost your suspects. Still,” I shrugged, “I don’t suppose you care. The Commissaire will be satisfied. You’ve got someone to convict. That’s all you policemen want, isn’t it?” I stood up. “Well, now that’s over. I’ve been wanting to get that off my chest. If you don’t mind, and have quite finished gloating, I’d like to be locked in my cell now. For one thing, this room is stuffy; for another, I didn’t get much sleep last night. I’ve got a headache and I’m tired.”

He took out a packet of cigarettes.

“Cigarette, Vadassy?”

I sneered. “The last time you said that you had something dirty up your sleeve. What do you want now, a signed confession? Because if you do you’re not going to get it. I absolutely refuse. Understand that, I absolutely refuse.”

“Take a cigarette, Vadassy. You’re not going to sleep yet.”

“Oh, I see! Third degree, eh?”

“Sacre chien!” he squeaked. “Take a cigarette.”

I took one. He lit his and tossed me the matches.

“Now!” He blew a cloud of smoke in the air. “I have an apology to make to you.”

“Oh?” I put all I could into the word.

“Yes, an apology. I made a mistake. I overrated your intelligence. And I underrated it. Both.”

“Splendid! And what am I supposed to do, Monsieur Beghin? Burst into tears and sign the confession now?”

He frowned. “You listen to me.”

“I am listening-fascinated.”

He ran his handkerchief round the inside of his collar. “That tongue of yours, Vadassy, will get you into trouble one of these days. Has it not occurred to you that it is a little unusual for a prisoner to be sitting where you are now instead of in a cell?”

“It has. I’m wondering where the trick is.”

“There is no trick, you fool,” he squeaked angrily. “Listen. The first thing you ought to know is that every one of the instructions you have been given has had one object-that of making the spy leave the Reserve. You were told to make those inquiries about the cameras with just that object in view. We wanted to alarm him. When that failed-and I can see now why it did fail-we told you to report the faked robbery. The man had searched your room; he had searched your pockets. I say we wanted to alarm him, not enough to put him to flight-that is why we ourselves kept away from the Reserve-but just enough to make him think that he was running a risk by staying. Again we failed. The first time I had failed to reckon on your reasoning the way you did from the facts in your possession. That was my fault. I had forgotten how little you knew. The second time I failed to reckon with your inexperience. Koche saw through you too quickly.”

“But,” I protested, “how on earth did you expect to catch the spy like that? What was your idea? Arrest the first man to pack up and leave the Reserve? If so, you’d better arrest Major Clandon-Hartley. He’s leaving first thing in the morning. If that’s your idea of catching a spy, then heaven help France.”

To my surprise, I saw the beginnings of a grin at the corner of his mouth. He drew at his cigarette, inhaled deeply and let the smoke trickle out through his nose.

“But then, my dear Vadassy,” he said sweetly, “you do not know all the facts. In particular, you are ignorant of one very important one-the fact that we had discovered the identity of the spy before you left here three days ago, that we could have arrested him at any time we wanted to do so.”

It took me a moment or two to take this in. Then hope and despair began to chase themselves through my brain. I looked at him.

“Who is the spy, then?”

He was leaning back, watching me with obvious interest. He flapped his hand airily. “Oh, we’ll come to that later.”

I swallowed hard. “Is this another trick?”

“No, Vadassy, it isn’t.”

“Then,” my temper rose again, “will you explain what the devil you mean by-by torturing me like this? If you knew what I’ve been through these last three days you wouldn’t be sitting there like a fat, complacent slug, grinning as though it were a good joke. Do you know what you’ve done to me? Do you realize, damn you? You-you…”

He tapped me on the knee. “Now, now, Vadassy! This is a waste of time. I know that I am fat, but I am certainly not complacent. Nor am I a slug. What I have done I have had to do, as you will see if you will give me time to explain instead of losing your temper.”

“Why have you arrested me? Why are you keeping me here?”

He shook his head protestingly. “Just be quiet, my good Vadassy, and listen. You’ve broken your cigarette in your emotion. Have another.”

“I don’t want a cigarette.”

I watched him, cold hatred in my heart, while he lit his second cigarette. When he had done so he sat for a moment staring at the match-stalk.

“I was quite sincere,” he said at last, “when I apologized to you. I had a job to do. You will see.”

I was about to speak, but he waved me into silence.

“About nine months ago,” he went on, “one of our agents in Italy included in his report news of a rumor that the Italian Intelligence Department had established a new base in Toulon. In my business, of course, we hear many such rumors, and I paid little attention to this one at the time. Subsequently, however, I was compelled to take it seriously. Information about our defenses along this coast was finding its way into Italy with disconcerting regularity. Our agent in Spezia, for instance, reported that particulars of a secret change in the fortifications of an island near Marseilles were being freely discussed by Italian naval officers three days after it was made. Worse, we had absolutely no clue to the source of this information. We were very worried. When that chemist walked in here with those negatives we seized the opportunity with both hands.” Dramatically his fat, babylike hands tightened on an imaginary object.

“Naturally, you came under suspicion. When, however, we found out what had happened, how the cameras had been changed, we discarded you as unimportant. To be truthful, we nearly released you then and there. Fortunately,” he added blandly, “we decided to wait for a few hours until the report on the camera came in.”

“Report on the camera?”

“Oh, yes. You see, that is something else you do not know about. As soon as we knew of the change we telephoned to the makers of the camera and asked who had bought the particular camera with that serial number. The reply was that it had been supplied to a dealer in Aix. The dealer in Aix remembered it quite well. As luck would have it, he was a small man and it was the only camera of that value he had sold for two years. He had had to get it specially, and was able to supply us with the name of the man who had bought it. The name corresponded with that of one of the guests at the Reserve. Meanwhile we had had the photographs examined by an expert. He was able to tell us by the position of the shadows that the photographs had been taken at about half past six in the morning, and that they had been taken with a telephoto lens attachment from a certain angle. Reference to the map, plus the fact that in some of the photographs portions of foilage were visible, showed that the photographer could have been in only one place. That place was a small, high headland, almost unapproachable except by sea.

“We consulted the fishermen in the harbor. Yes, the man in question had taken Koche’s boat out at five o’clock on the previous morning. He had said that he was going fishing. One fisherman remembered it because, usually, when Koche or his guests went fishing, this fisherman would go with them to bait the hooks and look after the engine. This particular guest had preferred to go alone.

“So, we had our man. We could arrest him. The Commissaire was impatient to do so. But we did not arrest him. Why? You will remember, no doubt, that when I was talking to you in that cell I said that I was not interested in spies, but in who employed them. That was so. I was not interested in this one man. We had heard of him before, and his dossier showed that he had always been an employee. I was interested in his headquarters at Toulon. Him I could arrest at any time I chose; but first I wanted him to lead me to his superiors. To bring that about I must in some way force him to leave the Reserve, yet at the same time let him think that he himeslf was completely unsuspected.”

“And then, I suppose, you thought of me?”

“Exactly. If you started making inquiries about cameras he would know what had happened to his photographs, realize that your suspicions were aroused, and go before you decided to approach the police. Then we should follow him. The only difficulty was persuading you to do this without giving anything away. Again fortune favored us. Your passport was not in order. You had no national status. The rest was easy.”

“Yes,” I said bitterly, “it was easy. But you could at least have told me that you knew who the spy was.”

“Impossible. For one thing, it would have appeared to have weakened our case against you, and you would have been more difficult to handle. Secondly, we could not afford to rely on your discretion. You might have confided in someone else. Your behavior towards the man might have been unnatural. It was a pity, because, acting in what you conceived to be your own interests, you disobeyed instructions. What has worried us more than the failure of those instructions was, first, the fact that your room had been searched and, second, the attack on you last night. It meant, so we thought, that the man was proving difficult to scare. He must have found out that the cameras had been changed, of course. And he would know it was you who had his camera. He would have seen you with an identical type. The trouble was, I see now, that he thought you didn’t know about the photographs. Or,” he glanced at me shrewdly, “did you do something that I don’t know about?”

I hesitated. In my mind’s eye I saw myself sitting in the writing-room, listening to the clock ticking, and staring into a mirror until suddenly the door slammed and a key turned in the lock. I met Beghin’s eyes.

“There’s nothing important that you don’t know about.”

He sighed. “Well, perhaps it does not matter. That is past. We come to the report of the robbery. Frankly, my dear Vadassy, I was a little sorry for you. It was an unpleasant thing for you to have to do. But it was necessary. The man who searched your room and took the two spools of film would know that he had taken nothing else. Your report of valuables stolen would puzzle him. He would be suspicious. But the situation deteriorated too quickly. We had to take more drastic measures. Hence your arrest this evening.”

“You mean that I am not really under arrest.”

“If you were under arrest, Vadassy, you would not, as I have already pointed out to you, be sitting here talking to me. You see, my good friend, we had to force his hand. But we had to do it carefully. The agent who arrested you was told to make it clear why you were being arrested. If Duclos had not asked, the agent would have announced that the charge was espionage. Now put yourself in this man’s place. You know that the photographs you have taken have fallen by chance into another person’s hands. What do you do? You try to get them back. Having failed, and suspecting that this person is playing some sort of game, you decide to wait. Then this person is arrested by the police on a charge of espionage. What do you think? What runs through your mind? Firstly, that the police have discovered that the photographs have been taken, secondly, that this person may, in defending himself, lead the police to you. It is time, therefore, for you to go. What is more, you have no time to lose. You understand?”

“Yes, I understand. But supposing he does not leave? What then?”

“The question does not arise. He has left.”

“What?”

He glanced at the clock on the wall. “Twenty-five past ten. He left the Reserve ten minutes ago in a car he hired from the garage in the village. He was heading for Toulon. We will give him a few more minutes. We have a car following. A report should reach us soon now.” He lit his third cigarette and flicked the match across the room. “Meanwhile I have some instructions for you.”

“Indeed!”

“Yes. For obvious reasons it is not desirable that any charge of espionage should be made just yet. The newspapers must not get too inquisitive. I propose to make the arrests on a charge of theft-the theft of a Zeiss Contax camera, value four thousand five hundred francs. Do you see?”

“You mean that you want me to identify the camera?”

“Exactly.” He stared hard at me. “You can do that, can’t you?

I hesitated. There was nothing else for it. He would have to know the truth.

“Well?” he said impatiently.

“I could have identified it.” I felt myself getting red. “There is only one difficulty. The camera now in my room at the Reserve is my own camera. The cameras were re-exchanged.”

To my astonishment, he nodded calmly. “When did it happen?”

I told him. Again that faint smile puckered the corners of his mouth.

“I thought as much.”

“You what?”

“My dear Monsieur Vadassy, I am not a fool and you are painfully transparent. Your careful avoidance of the subject of the cameras on the telephone this morning was very obvious.”

“I didn’t think-”

“Of course you didn’t. However, as you have already found, the two cameras are very much alike. It would be an understandable mistake on your part to identify the camera we hope to find at Toulon as your own property, wouldn’t it?”

I agreed hastily.

“And, of course, if the mistake is discovered later, you will be suitably apologetic?”

“Of course.”

“Very well, that is settled. He got to his feet. “And,” he added genially, “I see no reason why, if all goes well, you should not be able to leave for Paris tomorrow in time for your exigent Monsieur Mathis on Monday.”

For a moment I did not realize what he was saying; then, as the meaning began to filter into my brain, I heard myself babbling incoherent thanks. It was as if I were waking from a nightmare. There was that same almost overpowering sensation of mingled relief and fear: relief that it was, after all, only a nightmare, fear that it might, after all, be real and that the awakening was the dream. Fragments of the nightmare still lingered. I was afraid, afraid to trust myself to think. This was merely another trick of Beghin’s, a trap, a means of gaining my confidence. My thanks died on my lips. He was watching me curiously.

“If you are telling me the truth,” I said sharply, “if you do mean what you say, why don’t you let me go now? Why can’t I go until tomorrow? If you have no charge against me, you cannot keep me here. You have no right to do so.”

He sighed wearily. “None at all. But I have already told you that your assistance is required for identification purposes.”

“But supposing I refuse?”

He shrugged. “I cannot compel you. We should have to manage without you. There are, of course,” he added thoughtfully, “other considerations. You mentioned, I believe, that you had applied for French citizenship. Your attitude in this matter might make all the difference between the success or failure of your application. The French citizen is required to aid the police if requested to do so. A man with so little appreciation of the responsibilities of citizenship as to refuse that aid…”

“I see. More blackmail!”

One of his chubby hands rested on my shoulder. “My dear good Vadassy, I have never come across anyone so given to quibbling over words.” The hand left my shoulder, went to his inside pocket and came out with an envelope in it. “Look! You have spent three days at the Reserve at our request and upon our business. We wish to be fair. Here is five hundred francs.” He thrust the envelope into my hand. “That will more than cover the extra expense. Now then, we ask you to spend an hour of your remaining time here in helping us to arrest the men responsible for all your troubles. Is that unreasonable?”

I looked him in the eyes.

“You avoided the question just now. I ask it again. Who is the spy?”

He caressed his loose jowl thoughtfully and glanced at me out of the corner of his eye. “I am afraid,” he said slowly, “that I have purposely refrained from telling you. I am afraid, too, that I have no intention of telling you now.”

“I see. Very clever. I shall have to come with you and see for myself. And then I suppose I shall be expected to make this false identification of the camera. Is that it?”

But before he could reply there was a sharp knock at the door and an agent came in, nodded meaningly at Beghin, and went out again.

“That,” said Beghin, “means that our man has passed through Sanary. It’s time we went.” He walked to the door and looked back. “Are you coming, Vadassy?”

I slipped the envelope into my pocket and stood up.

“Of course,” I said, and followed him out of the room.

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