This money, German money, had been meant for the senator, so that he might influence the recommendation of a defense committee, which had for some time been considering a large outlay for construction on the northern extension of the Maginot Line. Up into Belgium, the Ardennes forest, where the Germans had attacked in 1914. A decision of such magnitude, he would tell the committee, should not be made precipitously, it needed more time, it should be studied, pros and cons worked through by technicians who understood the whole complicated business. Later, the committee would decide. Was it not wise to delay a little? That's what the people of France demanded of them: not rash expenditure, wisdom.
All that August, Prideaux had temporized: what to do? The suitcase of money for the senator had reached Prideaux by way of a prominent hostess, a German baroness named von Reschke, who'd settled in Paris a few years earlier and, using wealth and connection, had become the ruling despot of one of the loftiest salons in the city. The baroness spent the summer at her château near Versailles and there, in the drawing room, had handed Prideaux an envelope. Inside, a claim ticket for the baggage office at the Gare de Lyon railway station. "This is for you-know-who," she'd said, ever the coquette, fl irting with the handsome Prideaux. He'd collected the suitcase and hidden it under a couch, where it gave off a magnetic energy - he could feel its presence. Its potential.
The senator was in Cap Ferrat, wouldn't return until the third of September, and Prideaux sweated through hot August nights of temptation. Sometimes he thought he might resist, but the forces of catastrophe were waiting and they wouldn't wait long: his wife's ferocious lawyer, the shady individuals who'd loaned him money when the banks no longer would, and his cruel mistress, whose passion was kindled by expensive wines with expensive dinners and expensive jewelry to wear at the table. When unappeased she was cold, no bed. And while what happened in that bed was the best thing that had ever happened to Prideaux, it would soon be only a memory.
He had to escape before it all came crashing down on him. Take the money, Prideaux's devil whispered. The Germans have more where that came from. Go to, say, Istanbul, where a perfect new identity could be purchased. Then, on to exotic climes - Alexandria? Johannesburg? Quebec? A visit to a travel agency revealed that a Greek freighter, the Olympios, took on a few passengers at the Bulgarian port of Varna, easily reached by train from Paris. Stay? Or go? Prideaux couldn't decide but then, after an exceptionally uncomfortable telephone call from one of his creditors, he took the money and ran. Before anyone came looking for him.
But they were looking for him. In fact, they'd found him. The senator had been approached on September fi fth, in his office. No, the package hadn't arrived, was there a problem? His chef de cabinet was up at Deauville, he had telephoned and would return in a few days. The committee meeting? The senator consulted his calendar, that would be on the eleventh. Surely, by then...
In Berlin, at von Ribbentrop's Foreign Ministry, the people at the political warfare bureau found this news troubling, and spoke to the bribery people, who were very troubled indeed. So much so that, just to make sure, they got in touch with a dependable friend, a detective at the Sûreté Nationale - the French security service - and asked him to lend a hand. For the detective, an easy job. Prideaux wasn't in Deauville, according to his concierge, he was staying indoors. The concierge rubbed her thumb across the pads of her index and middle fingers and raised an eyebrow - money, it meant. And that gesture did it. At the Foreign Ministry they had a meeting and, by day's end, a discussion - not at the ministry! - with Herbert.
Excerpted from Mission to Paris by Alan Furst. Copyright © 2012 by Alan Furst. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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