I could still hear him screaming as the train pulled away.
“Monsieur Fabre? I am sorry to have troubled you, sir. Your passport-”
I nodded dumbly, took the little Frenchman’s passport from the policeman, tucked it away in my pocket. My heart was still pounding and my hands were slippery with sweat. I did not trust myself to look at the man, much less speak to him.
“An unfortunate interruption. The man sitting with you was a spy, an American agent. A very dangerous man!”
The policeman sighed and eased himself into the seat beside me. I wished he would go away. He offered me a cigarette. I shook my head. He lit one himself, inhaled deeply, blew out a cloud of bluish smoke.
For several moments he was silent. I leaned back in my seat, closed my eyes, pretended to be asleep. When he spoke again, he switched from Czech to German, an oddly accented German with reedy vowels and softened consonants.
“I am no Czech,” he said. “I am from the Sudetenland. You understand?”
“By now they know their mistake. They will call ahead to the next stop. Tyn. It is not scheduled, but they will stop the train there. You must get off before then. You understand?”
“Go to Pisek. There is a man there named Kurt Neumann. He will hide you and help you get to Prague. Tell him Heinz Moll. You understand?”
“You will help the old man? Help him out of this damned country. I’ll go now. Wait to the count of twenty, then follow me.”
He left. I counted to twenty, got up from my seat, walked after him to the rear of the car. I found him waiting on the trestle between the two cars.
He said, “Kurt Neumann in Pisek. You remember that?”
“I cannot stop the train. They would remember. I can go to the front, talk with the engineer. I can pretend to see something on the track and he will slow down to twenty kilometers an hour. When the train slows you will jump. You understand?”
“Good.” He hesitated. Then he straightened up sharply, and his right arm swung upward and his heels clicked sharply together.
The words were sharp and clear over the roar of the train. I brought up my own hand in the familiar salute, met his eyes with mine, echoed his words.
When the telephone rang to begin it all, I was sitting at my desk typing up the last few pages of an eight-page report which Diane Blumberg would submit as her term paper in Shakespearean Tragedy. The paper was one I’d originally written several years ago for an NYU student. Since then it had made appearances at Barnard, Adelphi, and Fordham, and now Miss Blumberg would add Hofstra to the list. It was one of my favorites, built upon the thesis that Hamlet was intended by its author as a comedy, a sort of farcical satire upon the earlier Elizabethan tragedy-of-blood cliché. The neurotically indecisive Hamlet, the accidental murder of the buffoon Polonius, the manner in which revenge is constantly thwarted by Hamlet’s own incompetence – these and other elements combined to make a legitimate if unconvincing case for my argument. Highly original! An unlikely but engaging viewpoint. A-, the instructor at NYU had written. I’d dearly love to see the play performed as a comedy, said a professor at Adelphi, who’d given the author of record an A. Barnard and Fordham gave the paper a B, the former musing that the student didn’t seriously mean all of this, do you? and the latter offering jesuitical disputation but giving grudging praise to the originality and logical organization of the argument.
Because the paper involved no new work on my part beyond running it once more through the typewriter, I was charging Diane Blumberg $25 for it. Original papers come higher; masters and doctoral theses cost up to a thousand dollars. This is not terribly high, considering the time and effort I put into my work, but it is the sort of work I enjoy. The income it provides, added to the $112 monthly disability pension which the government pays me for my permanent insomnia, is sufficient unto my needs.
“…of incest as a humorous component,” I typed. “Ophelia’s madness and its sexual overtones, seen in this light…” And the telephone rang.
I answered it. A young man said, “Mr. Tanner? My name is Jeff Lind. A friend suggested that I get in touch with you.”
“Could I come up and see you?”
“I’m enrolled at Columbia. There’s… uh… something I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Huh? Well, I’d rather not go into it over the phone.”
“No one from Columbia has a tap on my phone. At least I don’t think-”
“Would it be all right if I come up to your apartment?”
“Not before noon.”
“I’ll be busy until then.”
“All right,” he said. I asked if he had my address. He said he did, and that he would see me at noon. I finished up Diane Blumberg’s term paper, put it in an envelope, and went downstairs to mail it to her. I picked up my own mail on the way back and carted it upstairs. There was the usual glut of pamphlets and magazines and newspapers, a batch of appeals for donations, and a good bit of foreign correspondence. Sir William Wheatly had dashed off an enthusiastic note accepting an article of mine for the quarterly bulletin of the Flat Earth Society of England. He liked my thesis that the sky was a curved two-dimensional entity. Rolfe MacGoohan of the Jacobite League reported sadly that he had made no headway with Prince Rupert of Bavaria, the Stuart pretender we hoped to restore to the English throne. A French anarchist named Claude Martinot sent me an elaborately engraved announcement of the marriage of his daughter Monique to a M. Henri Pierre Peugeot.
I had barely organized the morning mail, much less read through it, when my doorbell rang. It was eleven-thirty. I opened the door and admitted a young man with a crew cut, an NYU sweat shirt, chino pants, and dirty tennis sneakers.
He said that he was Jeff Lind, and I said that he was early.
He came inside, closed the door. Once inside his manner changed remarkably. He put a cautionary forefinger to his lips, took a folded slip of paper from his pocket, passed it urgently to me, put his finger to his lips again, motioned for me to unfold the slip of paper, and then began to talk rapidly about a paper he had to prepare for his economics seminar.
I unfolded the paper he had handed me. It was a single sheet of typing paper with this message on it.
IGNORE EVERYTHING I SAY AND MAKE NORMAL ARRANGEMENTS WITH ME FOR THE ECONOMICS PAPER. WE HAVE REASON TO BELIEVE THAT YOUR APARTMENT IS BUGGED AND YOUR PHONE TAPPED. THE CHIEF WANTS TO SEE YOU THIS AFTERNOON. HE WILL BE IN ROOM 1114 OF THE RUTLEDGE HOTEL. ARRIVE THERE AT 2:45. MAKE SURE NO ONE FOLLOWS YOU. DESTROY THIS NOTE.
The bearer of the note went on to explain the details of his economics assignment. Everything he said sounded as though it had been carefully memorized and laboriously rehearsed. We discussed time, price, and theme. True to my instructions, I ignored everything he said.
The Chief was a pudgy man in an expensive blue suit which appeared to have been perfectly tailored for someone else. It was tight around his waist and loose at his shoulders. He closed the door, motioned me to a couch, offered me a cigarette which I refused and a drink which I accepted.
“You’ll excuse this morning’s dramatics,” he said. “Probably unnecessary, but it’s unwise to take chances.”
“Is my apartment really bugged? And my phone?”
“We think so.”
“Either the CIA or the FBI. Quite possibly both. The Agency boys know you worked for us. They’re always hungry to find out something about us. The fact that we work better without their scrutiny doesn’t seem to deter them.” He shook his head sadly. “Sometimes,” he said, “those Boy Scouts seem to forget that we’re all on the same side.”
“And the FBI?”
“They don’t know of your connection with us. I’m not entirely sure whether or not they know of our existence, as far as that goes. But they have you pegged as a subversive, you know.”
“They visit me all the time.”
“Well, you are a member of a startling number of unusual organizations, Tanner. Your allegiances more or less blanket the Attorney General’s subversive list.” He sipped tentatively at his drink. “But that’s beside the point. I told you last time that we might have a piece of work for you now and again. I liked the way you handled yourself, particularly in Macedonia. We’re still collecting dividends from the revolution you started.”
I had met the Chief once before, in an unidentified office somewhere in Washington. His name was one of the myriad things about him which I did not know. He headed an extraordinary secret government agency, also blessed with an unknown name. I knew that he thought I had been recruited by an agent of his, a man named Dahlmann whom I had seen shot down by the Dublin police. I knew that his men went places and did things, that they were permitted an unusual amount of independence and were encouraged to use their own judgment and discretion. And that, actually, was just about all I did know.
“Something unusual has come up,” he said. “Something that I think might be particularly suited to a man of your talents and connections. I don’t suppose you’ve heard of a man named Janos Kotacek?”
“Yes, I have.”
“That’s not surprising. Very few people have. Kotacek was a Slovak who – did you say yes, you have heard of him?”
“If you mean Josef Tiso’s Internal Affairs minister in the Slovak puppet government, yes, I have.”
“Well, that’s a pleasant surprise, Tanner. It should save us a great deal of time.” He leaned forward in his chair and rested his plump hands upon his knees. “When Czechoslovakia fell to the Russians, Kotacek got out in time. He ran to Germany and stayed there until the fall. Again he got out in time. We’re not sure where he went from Germany. Argentina, possibly, or perhaps Spain. He seems to have been active, though from a distance, in the abortive fascist coup after the assassination of Masaryk. Of course that never got off the ground – the Russians were in there and they stayed. A few years ago he turned up in Brazil. He was in touch, evidently, with much of the Nazi Underground. Israeli agents almost captured him outside of Sao Paulo. He escaped. In 1963 there were rumors that he had committed suicide.”
“That’s what I had heard.”
“Did you? Do you happen to remember the details?”
“Not clearly. I think he was supposed to have shot himself in Brazil.”
He nodded. “That was one story. Another had him discovering that he was dying of cancer or some such, and taking poison. It appears he did neither. Instead he went to Lisbon. He lived unobtrusively but well. His Swiss bank accounts have evidently not yet run dry. Ten days ago… more whiskey, Tanner?”
He filled our glasses. “Let me see,” he said, “where was I?”