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Read a thrilling excerpt from Pray for a Brave Heart

By Titan Books On 30 01 2013

Read a thrilling excerpt from Pray for a Brave Heart


CHAPTER 1

Meeting in Berlin

On the narrow bed lay two uniforms, an army great-coat, a stack of khaki shirts and socks. The table, holding a neat small pile of civilian clothes, was jammed against one wall to give more space for an open trunk and a clutter of books on the floor. Letters and pencils and odd sheets of paper, stamps, bits and pieces of old erasers, pens broken and pens usable, had been emptied from the desk drawer on top of the blotter. The travelling clock, pushing its face through a tangle of ties and handkerchiefs, gave quiet warning that the evening was slipping away. But William Denning, sleeves rolled up, a smudge of dust streaking his brow, stood at the window and watched the street lights go on, bringing his last night in Berlin.

He was a quiet-faced man, with watchful grey eyes, even features, and brown hair trimmed close. His height was average, his body thin; but his shoulders were good and his tight army shirt (with captain’s insignia on its collar) stretched across firm muscles. He looked like a capable man, self-disciplined, serious, older than his thirty-three years. At this moment, by himself, his face was relaxed. His eyes were amused. The usual firm line of his mouth had eased into a smile.

The hurrying people down in the street had hurried along there yesterday, would hurry tomorrow. They always seemed the same, as anonymous as the row of buildings opposite him. Buildings? Someone called them apartments, even called them home. “All right, all right,” he told the street, “I’m a stranger here, a stranger who lived four years with you. Go on, give me one kind word, one first and last kind word.” But the street was too busy. At least, he thought, it would be easy to say goodbye. He had been neither happy nor unhappy in this room: he had no deep memories of this place. Was this the best he could hope for, now?

He drew the curtains, switched on the reading lamp by his armchair, and poured himself some beer. Then he sat down, studying the art magazines. What about this lot on sculpture and architecture? Good illustrations, they’d probably come in useful, back numbers were always difficult to get; better pack them for New York. Now what about these others? Leave them, he decided, and tossed them lightly on to a growing pyramid of books and magazines in front of his chair.

Next, he reached for the books piled on the small table at his elbow. Those three were surplus weight: he threw them on to the pyramid. But these—no doubt about these, they’d go back home to America along with the magazines. He finished his beer, and began carrying his selection towards the trunk. He frowned down at the layer of shoes and books, already tightly packed. It was then that the door bell rang, briefly, gently.

Denning’s frown deepened and he glanced impatiently at his watch. But he dropped his load into the trunk, and opened the door. Outside, the landing was in darkness. What had happened to the lights? he wondered, and then stared at the figure which took a quick step from the darkness towards the open door. As Denning’s shoulders straightened, the stranger smiled, made a gesture of caution, and flicked his thumb against the drooping brim of his hat so that it snapped back to show his deep-set eyes and prominent brow. Just as quickly, he glanced back over the well of the staircase, seemed satisfied with the silent hallway beneath him, and slipped into the room.

Denning closed and locked the door. “Max! What are you doing in Berlin?”

“Just foot-loose as usual,” Max Meyer said, pulling off his black coat and then looking round for a free chair. “Charming bit of chaos you’ve got here, Bill. Taking an inventory?”

“Don’t let it bother you, I’m almost packed.”

“So I see. Now, don’t start clearing a space for me—you’d better keep your system intact. Here’s a free spot, anyway.” He dropped his hat and coat on the floor. “Good to see you, Bill.”

“Good to see you.”

They clasped hands.

“Two years, almost, since I was last here,” Meyer said, wandering across the room. “June, 1951, to be precise. What happens to time these days?” He picked up Denning’s empty glass and sniffed it. “Any more where this came from? I’ve a thirst I wouldn’t sell for twenty dollars.”

“The price used to be ten,” Bill Denning said, with a grin. He went to the cupboard and brought out all the remaining bottles of beer.

“Cost of living is rising.” Meyer sat down in the armchair with a sigh of relief and studied his flimsy shoes. “Can you imagine it, Bill?—Some people actually choose this kind of clothes, of their own free will.” He gestured with distaste to his sharp-shouldered, waist-nipped jacket, its grey colour too silvered, its pin-stripe black and emphatic. His blue shirt had horizontal stripes of white, cuffs too long, a deeply peaked collar stiffly angled around the tight knot of his black artificial satin tie. His chin was blue-shadowed. His dark hair needed cutting, but he kept it plastered back with plenty of brilliantine. Only the hawk-like, inquiring nose and fine brown eyes, now watching Denning with amusement, were recognisably Max Meyer. “Go on,” he said encouragingly.

“I didn’t say anything.”

“You didn’t have to.” Meyer took the offered glass of beer and propped his feet wearily on a pile of magazines. “Now stop jeering, and sympathise.”

“You look like a man who’d have a stolen car to help him get around.” Denning was studying Meyer’s clothes with interest.

“I have, actually. But tonight was definitely pedestrian. To you, Bill!” Meyer drank thankfully. “And continue packing. I like seeing other people work.”

“That’s part of your new character?” Denning brought over some more bottles of beer and stacked them near the armchair. “Interesting company you must be keeping these days, Major.”

“A half-colonel, my boy, and don’t you forget it.”

“A half-intelligent colonel? Congratulations. But be careful. Or you’ll end up as one of those damn-fool colonels we used to curse.” He enlarged a space on the floor with his foot—that was easier than clearing a chair piled with clean shirts—and sat down with his back against a wall.

Meyer studied his friend. “You look fine, anyhow. And you stayed with Restitution of Property up to the last?”

“We recovered most of the Nazi loot. There are still a few outstanding items, though, I guess we’ll have to file them under Failures.”

“Will we?” There was a sudden gleam in Meyer’s eyes. Then he began examining the white embroidered arrows on his black artificial silk socks, and was very silent.

“Recently, I’ve been doing some interrogation of displaced persons,” Denning went on. “I thought we might get some leads from them, but—” He watched Meyer, who seemed scarcely to be listening. I remember that look, Denning thought: Max is getting ready to tell me something important, in his own way, in his own time.

“But no dice?”

“I got more interested in people than in property,” Denning admitted. “What we need now is a new department—the Restitution of Lives.”

“And you’ve started restituting your own?” Meyer waved his hand vaguely towards the trunk.

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing. Not a bad idea, not bad at all. And yet, you know, I’ve often wondered why you did stick with the old Restitution of Property when it became practically moribund.”

“Just naturally stubborn, I suppose.”

“Or you don’t like seeing crooks getting away with their crookery?”

Denning looked up in surprise. There had been an edge to Meyer’s usually soft, almost lazy voice.

Meyer said, his tone normal again, “I’ve always thought it was a pity you didn’t come into counter-intelligence with me a couple of years ago. We’d have made a damned good team. As we always did.”

Denning lit a cigarette. His cool grey eyes watched his friend with some amusement over the flame of his lighter.

“All right, all right,” Meyer said, sharing the amusement. “So you’re going to Switzerland for your terminal leave?” He pointed to the table which held civilian clothes. “Right?”

“Frankfurt knows a damn sight more about Berlin than Berlin knows about Frankfurt,” Denning remarked dryly.

But Meyer kept right on. “What’s your first stop in Switzerland?”

“Basel.”

“Are you serious? Basel? Why on earth Basel?”

“Holbein.”

“Yes, of course. Hans Holbein. Renaissance art was your field, wasn’t it?”

Denning said nothing at all. He was enjoying himself, watching Max and his manoeuvres. Max ought to have been a diplomat, he thought: that was certainly Max’s field, handling light remarks and delicate tangents with equal skill while he steadily pursued his own purpose.

Max Meyer cleared his throat. “Why don’t you go on packing while we talk? You’ve made me feel guilty, using up your last hours in Germany. You didn’t have a party all arranged for tonight, by any chance?”

Denning shook his head. “Don’t worry, I’m practically ready.” Then, suddenly, he found himself looking at Peggy’s photograph on the bureau. For a moment, he was no longer in his room. He was four years back. In Princeton, working for a Fine Arts degree on the GI Bill. Living in the cramped little apartment that seemed a pretty fine place to him. And Peggy—Peggy getting ready for a special party while he waited, all dressed, nervous about the evening ahead at the Dean’s house, glancing at his watch, fifteen minutes to go and they were supposed to be sitting down to dinner. And Peggy coming out of the bedroom, her face powdered, her hair arranged, but without a stitch of clothing on. Peggy saying earnestly, “Now, Bill, darling, don’t look so worried. I’m practically ready!”

“I’m practically ready,” he repeated to Meyer; and he looked away from the photograph. Yes, he thought, I can now remember Peggy: once, I couldn’t even trust myself to do that. He became aware that Max was watching him. “What is it, Max?” he asked defensively. “What is it you want me to do?”

Max Meyer looked at him blankly.

“You didn’t come here tonight to talk me again into another hitch in the army, did you? It’s too late, anyway. I’m going back to pick up my own work where it was all broken off.”

“Take it easy, Bill, take it easy.” Meyer poured himself some more beer. “I think you’re right, perfectly right in what you’re doing. I only hope you don’t regret listening to my advice in 1949 when I persuaded you back into Germany.”

“No. That was the right idea then. It worked out.”

“I’ve often wondered.” And worried, too, Meyer thought:

“It worked out.” Denning looked again at Peggy’s photograph. Then he searched in his pocket for his cigarettes. “You don’t, do you?” He offered the crumpled pack politely.

“Still don’t use them, You’ve a good memory, Bill.”

“That has its drawbacks.” Denning’s face was a quiet mask.

“Look,” Meyer said suddenly, “when do you leave for Switzerland? Tomorrow, isn’t it?”

“Tomorrow.” Denning’s smile came back. “And you probably know the train I’m taking too.”

“You’ll enter Switzerland by Basel.”

“That’s the general idea.”

“Couldn’t I interest you in Bern instead? It’s less than two hours farther south. Surely, there’s some Renaissance art in Bern too. Wasn’t there a fellow called Nicholas Manuel who did a good altar-piece there?”

Denning’s smile broadened. “1515 is the date. I see you’ve been doing your homework. But I hate to spoil it—Manuel’s best paintings are in Basel.”

Meyer ignored that, and pointed to the bag of golf clubs leaning against the table. “And if you want to balance museums with the great outdoors, there’s a golf course near Bern. Now, Basel has only—”

“Come on, Max. You’ve baited the hook. What are you fishing for? You want me in Bern. Why?”

“For the last six weeks, you’ve been tidying up your office, clearing the IN trays, briefing your replacement, answering friendly questions about your future plans. All routine. All perfectly normal. Everyone expects you to be doing just what you’re doing. Right?”

“Right.” So that’s my cover, Denning thought.

“You and I have worked together, before, tracking down Nazi loot. How many of our original team do you think are still around?”

“You and I, and a couple of others.” So that’s my necessary experience, Denning thought now.

“That’s just about it. Eight years ago, there were hundreds of us. Today? They’re back home, being lawyers or teachers or art critics or insurance brokers.”

“Smart fellows.”

“Even you and I haven’t been working together for some years, now,” Meyer went on smoothly.

“That’s right,” Denning said with mock cheerfulness. “That makes me contact-pure.”

Meyer studied his face. “What I like most about you, Bill, is that I just tell you—I don’t have to explain.”

“Well, before you tell me any more, I think you should get one thing straight. I’m a civilian now. Practically.”

Meyer could have said, “You’re still under orders until you’re finally separated from the army.” But he didn’t. He studied the back of his hands. “Don’t worry, Bill. I didn’t go to your command and plead special emergency and get your leave postponed. I’ve come to you, yourself, as the almost-civilian. The choice is yours. You’re free to refuse. Besides, I wouldn’t want your help unless you were really interested.”

“Interested in what?”

“Think back to 1946… just before you left the army—”

“Twice in the army and twice out. Don’t I get a medal or something?”

“Think back,” Meyer said, refusing to be humorous about it, “think back to the Nazi loot we were tracking down.”

“I’m thinking.” But Denning’s actual thoughts were more sober than his words. Nazi loot. Mass plunder. Everything from museum pieces to gold teeth. Church bells, acres of church bells stolen from Belgium and Poland. Medical instruments from Dutch hospitals. Silk-mill machinery from Lyons. Prize cows. Libraries. Furs. Everything, anything, that could be sneaked or ripped out. Even that truckload of baby clothes which the British discovered, emptied out of Amsterdam stores and shipped eastward with the retreating Nazis. “It all seems incredible now,” Denning said grimly. “But it’s still more incredible that we did find so much to hand back to the right owners.” He was thinking of the hiding places: deserted quarries, salt mines, warehouses, factory yards, railway sidings, pleasant gardens, quiet fields, peaceful cottages. His lip curled with distaste as he remembered the protests and outraged indignation when the stolen property had been recovered: the honest-faced farmer who swore the collection of rare sixteenth-century books belonged in his barn, no matter what the bookplates said about a Danish doctor; the factory girl, denying anything unusual in possessing three silver-fox capes from Norway, a gold Cellini snuffbox from Czechoslovakia, and twenty-four dozen pairs of silk stockings from France; the placid housewife, aroused to fury over the lies that the Luxembourgers were telling—why, those paintings had been in her grandmother’s parlour.

Meyer nodded. “But we didn’t find everything. Such as nice portable pieces of property, easily hidden, intensely valuable. Do you remember the Herz diamonds, the Delval emeralds, the Dyckman jade collection? Considerable fortunes, all of them.”

“Three for the file marked Failures.” Something stirred in Denning’s memory. “Gentleman Goering lifted them, didn’t he?”

“Yes. But once the war was over, we couldn’t find them. They vanished, into air, into thin air.”

“Or into neat leather bags buried under some potato patch.”

“The British searched their Zone. We searched. The French searched—but madly.”

“Oh yes, I remember now… The Herz collection belongs to France.”

“The owner having died at Dachau, his daughter in Ravensbrück, and every known relative in Auschwitz. The Nazis were thorough.”

“I suppose the Russians searched, too?”

“They assured us there was no sign of Goering’s precious stones. They assured us three times, and then even I ran out of ideas how to ask them again, politely.”

“You didn’t risk sending any of your own men into East Germany?”

“We’ve had all kinds of fun and games,” Max said soberly. “Some of them weren’t very amusing, either. Then,” he studied his over-decorated shoes with distaste, “I was taken off the job in 1948. Someone higher up was persuaded it was all a waste of time.”

“Was persuaded?” Denning echoed. “You mean that literally?”

Meyer shrugged his shoulders.

Denning said, “And who put you back on the job?”

Meyer stared. Then he smiled. “I like you, Bill. I like you very much.”

“But you’ve moved out of Restitution of Property. I don’t see why—” He hesitated.

“Why I’ve started being interested again?”

Denning said, “I don’t suppose you ever stopped being interested. But”—he hesitated again—”why not let it all rest, Max? Especially,” he added, “especially when diamonds and emeralds are just a lot of decorative glitter.” He rose, stretching his back muscles stiffly, and started hunting for more cigarettes.

Meyer watched him as he searched under the ties on the bureau. He said quietly, “I don’t suppose anyone who has been working with displaced persons, as you’ve been doing recently, feels much interest in glitter. Not even in three million dollars’ worth of Herz diamonds.”

“You’re damn well right,” Denning said. He found the cigarettes and tore open the pack roughly.

“But what will the glitter buy? That’s something else again.”

Denning lit a cigarette and walked over to the window.

“There are people, you know, who will pay a fortune willingly for the Herz collection.” Meyer’s low voice came softly across the room. “No questions asked about how the money will be used. But that’s what interests us, Bill: just how will the money be used?”

“How?” Denning pulled back the folds of the heavy curtains, and looked down into the prim street with its row of placid grey buildings, now retreating into black shadows, remote and cold under the sparse street lights. People still walked down there, fewer in number, more slowly, but with the same preoccupation in their own lives.

“If someone wanted to finance a secret project, then the possession of the Herz collection would be doubly valuable. No one suspects its existence: everyone agrees it was a casualty of the war, buried too well, forgotten, probably to be discovered by some astounded farmer a hundred years from now. So the secret sale of the Herz diamonds could start a huge hidden fund. The Dyckman jade would add to it. So would the Delval emeralds. Yes: it would grow into a sizeable fund.”

Denning let the curtain fall back into place before he answered. “For what?”

“For the buying of men’s minds. It costs money to finance treachery.”

For a moment Denning said nothing. “Then I’d double my advice about giving up your search. Leave the glitter buried safely under the potato patch.”

“I wish we could.”

Denning came back into the centre of the room, and stood there, watching Meyer.

“The Herz diamonds are moving out of Europe,” Meyer said.

“What?”

“Moving, secretly. Much too secretly.”

“But where?”

“Destination ultimately America, we are told. They will be smuggled skilfully. Sold discreetly. And the secret fund will be established. Or reinforced. To be used—” Meyer shrugged his shoulders.

“Against us?”

“It certainly won’t be used to aid and comfort us.”

Denning reached for a chair, emptied its contents on to the floor, and then bestrode it. He said thoughtfully, “And who’s behind all this?”

“Whoever was in a position to find the diamonds.”

“Is that all you can tell me?”

“For the moment, yes. Except that it’s a major operation, obviously.”

“How did you find out about the Herz collection?”

“That’s one of the ironies of our jobs, Bill. For years I’ve worked on this problem. Results: zero. Then, three days ago, suddenly, a man came to see me in Frankfurt. Quietly. A frightened little man.”

“An informer?” Denning spoke the word without enthusiasm.

“If it weren’t for informers, the jails would be half-empty, and murderers would walk free,” Meyer replied calmly. “Ask any policeman, Bill.”

“I know, I know.” Denning was impatient. “But can you trust this man?”

“I wouldn’t exactly throw my arms around him and kiss him on the brow, but I’d listen to what he had to tell. An informer and his information are two quite separate things. You don’t have to stroke the bee to get the honey.”

“He isn’t just one of those types who want a little publicity?”

Meyer was suddenly amused. “Hardly. He’s a jewel thief, Bill.”

Denning looked startled.

“He’s one of a syndicate, a very minor member,” Meyer continued, enjoying the moment thoroughly. “Actually, it was his boss who sent him to tell me what their intelligence service had discovered. Amusing, isn’t it?”

“In a sour kind of way.” Then, thoughtfully, Denning said, “How do you rate their intelligence?”

“Judge for yourself. Here’s their information. First, the diamonds have moved out of East Germany. Second, they have already reached as far south as Switzerland. Third, they are to be smuggled out of Europe, probably by way of Genoa. Fourth, the flat price is three million American dollars, cash on the barrelhead.”

Denning considered all that. “If this syndicate is any good at its own speciality, why don’t they steal the diamonds before they leave Europe?”

“Because they’ve discovered that the organisation which is moving the diamonds is more powerful than they are. Much more powerful.”

“And I suppose we are to take action—”

“We haven’t much choice, have we? Genoa worries us. Naturally. Next step, New York.”

“—and once we’ve controlled the situation, they will take the diamonds before the French can get them. Is that the idea?”

“I shouldn’t be surprised. We’re the simple-minded Americans. Once we stop the diamonds from reaching New York, we lose interest. That’s what the jewel thieves expect, anyhow. Naïve characters, in their own way.”

“So that’s, why they came to you, and not to the French?”

“They refused to give any information to the French.”

“Somehow, I don’t feel this is very complimentary to us. Who is head of the syndicate?”

“Nikolaides, a Bulgarian possibly, of probably Greek descent, now a French citizen.” Meyer gave a wave of his hand, dispensing with Nikolaides. “He isn’t important to us, except that he sent Charles-Auguste with that startling information.”

“Charles-Auguste who?”

“Maartens. Charles-Auguste Maartens. Let’s call him Charlie for short. I’m meeting him in Bern. Thursday night. Eleven o’clock.”

“And he’s scared?” A frightened little man, Denning remembered.

“He’s scared stiff.”

“I don’t like it, Max,” Denning said slowly. “I don’t like it one bit. You’re meeting this man, yourself?”

“That’s the arrangement he made. I wasn’t in any position to argue with him.” Meyer grinned suddenly. “That’s my general excuse. Between us, I just want to close the file on the Herz collection—personally.”

“What do you expect to find out from him?”

“The sailing date from Genoa. That, at the very least.” Meyer didn’t elaborate. He went on, “We’re meeting at the Café Henzi.”

Denning frowned, trying to place the café. “Where is it?” he had to ask.

“It’s just off the Kramgasse, north of the cheese market. It’s popular with tourists. Strange how they always like to eat and drink near an open market place: makes them feel the food must be good, I suppose.”

“I could reach Bern by Thursday morning,” Denning said. That would give him the day to wander around the Lower Town, time to make sure of the Café Henzi.

Meyer’s face relaxed. He said quietly, “That would be fine, Bill.” Then, watching Denning’s thoughtful eyes, he added, “Don’t start worrying about the details. You won’t be in the Café Henzi, anyway.”

Denning looked up swiftly. “You’re meeting Charlie by yourself? Alone?” He shook his head. “That’s really tricky, Max. Very tricky.”

“It will be easy,” Meyer assured him, “compared with these last three days. God!” He sighed wearily. “I’ve been checking on Charlie-for-Short”—he pointed to his clothes—”I’ve started some of our people doing research on Boss Nikolaides and his syndicate. I got one of our men, Taylor, to make a journey to Munich and contact Le Brun of the French Intelligence. I got another to meet Johann Keppler who’s in Swiss Security. And neither Boss Nikolaides, nor the group that is moving the diamonds, had to have the least suspicion that we were doing any of that.”

“I must say you’re a fair example of the simple-minded American. Nikolaides will be disappointed with you.”

Meyer grinned cheerfully. “To hell with men like Nikolaides. He uses me, so all right, I’ll use him.”

“I can imagine the feelings of the French if you had hidden this news from them,” Denning said dryly. “Or of the Swiss, who must be pretty tired of having their peaceful country used by other people for their secret skirmishes.”

Meyer nodded, and rose. He smoothed down his trousers, pulled at his coat. “Too damned tight,” he observed critically.

“Très chic, très snob, presque cad,” Denning consoled him. “But I still feel the overcoat is a mistake.”

Meyer said, “Black and shapeless as the shadows. It has its merits. I take if off before I enter a cellar café. In the streets—I prefer to be undistinguished. Sometimes not even a friend of Charlie’s.” He moved over to pick up his criticised coat. “I hope I look just one of the little men—sporadically affluent. Now, if I were mixing with the upper echelons, such as Boss Nikolaides, I’d have monograms and caviare all over my shirt front.”

“Real black caviare, daddy? The kind whose dye doesn’t come off?”

“One more crack out of you, son, and I’ll promote you to carrying my gold toothpick.”

Denning said, in a thick accent, “Enoff of thiss foolish laugh-making. Where do I stay in Bern, blast you?”

“Try the Aarhof. Reasonable. Respectable. Not too far from the station.”

“That may be useful, for a quick exit.”

“I hope you won’t need that kind of usefulness,” Meyer said, his voice now completely serious. “Take it easy, won’t you, Bill? just travel as you planned, and enjoy yourself. Have fun.”

“Sure. Almost,” Denning reminded him.

“Golf clubs, camera, and all. Don’t pretend anything. You still know me, in case anyone should inquire. But you just haven’t seen me for a couple of years.”

“You’re desk-bound in Frankfurt,” Denning agreed; “and how shall I get in touch with you?”

“I’ll let Keppler, the Swiss Security man, arrange that. He knows Bern’s possibilities. Once I’ve met Charlie at the Café Henzi, we’d all better get together—you and Le Brun and Keppler and I. And then, you can deliver my report, word for word, in case I have to go jet-propelled off to Genoa.”

“I hope you aren’t relying on me alone—” Denning began quickly.

“Oh, I’ll have other reinforcements,” Meyer said quickly. “I hope,” he added. Then he smiled grimly. “Perhaps I’ll be busted right down to a lieutenant without either hyphen or colonel, next time we meet.” He studied the floor at his feet for a long moment. “I’m too vague for you, Bill?” he asked suddenly.

“I don’t suppose it’s wise to be more specific.”

“Actually,” Meyer struggled into his coat, “I’ve told you more than I’ve told any one man. I’ve turned in a full report, of course, so that I’ll get some backing and proper action. But a report is a report.” He faced Denning suddenly. “Remember my regrettably emotional outburst earlier this evening? For the buying of men’s minds, I think I said. How would that look in a report? Yet I meant it. I know I’m right. But how would it look?”

“Regrettably emotional.”

“You can imagine some poor guy, just below the policy-making level, scratching it out and substituting "presumably for propaganda purposes". Then the next man to read it murmurs, "Oh, not those dreary peace-front meetings; not those mimeographed appeals, all over again.”"

Denning’s face showed the shadow of embarrassment. He had translated Meyer’s phrase about buying men’s minds on that same pedestrian level.

But if Meyer noticed he had scored sharply, he didn’t say. He went on, quietly, “By the time the report reached the policy makers, it would be as weak as China tea, watered down until a three-day-old baby could drink it.”

Denning dusted off Meyer’s hat and held it out. “I’ll be your report. And I don’t water down easily.

“That’s what I want, Bill.” Meyer smiled suddenly. “When we meet in Bern, I’ll be able to fill in a lot of gaps for you.” He frowned at the floor again.

“Forgotten something?” Denning asked. He knew Meyer’s difficulty: to tell enough, without telling too much. Only the completely necessary facts had been given, and now Max was reviewing them, worried in case he had left out something small but vital.

“Recently, in my own job,” Meyer said slowly, “I’ve—” Then he stopped short. What he had discovered during the last three weeks wasn’t proved yet. Perhaps there was no connection after all with the money which the diamonds would bring. He looked at Denning. “Never mind about that—it’s just something I’m going to work on, once I finish this business with Charlie. It may all connect.” He gripped Denning’s arm and moved to the door. “One thing I did forget,” he said lightly. “About Keppler. Don’t be alarmed if he sends you messages signed Elizabeth. He’s definitely well-adjusted.”

And with that, he was at the door, pausing, listening, and then opening it. Just as quickly, as silently, it closed behind him.

For a long moment, Denning stood quite motionless. He could hear nothing at all. He resisted a foolish impulse to switch off the lights and go over to the window. In the quiet street below, two cars passed.

Then he moved slowly over to the bureau. He straightened Peggy’s photograph. He stayed there with it, his hand on the leather frame, his eyes thoughtful. There was something more to all this than Max had been able to tell him. He remembered the grim look on Meyer’s face—just something I’m going to work on, once I finish this business with Charlie. It may all connect. And he remembered, too, that Max Meyer’s instinct for connecting odd facts had never yet failed him. He wished, suddenly, that Meyer’s instinct for self-preservation was as keenly developed. His eyes looked at Peggy for a moment. He thought, what have I to lose now, anyway?

The clock said it was almost midnight. Briskly, he turned to face the room, saw confusion worse than he had imagined, cursed crisply, and began jamming his gear into his trunk. The time for decisions was over.

© 1955, 2012 by the Estate of Helen MacInnes. All rights reserved.

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