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.
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
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.
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