Excerpt of Mission to Paris by Alan Furst
(Page 3 of 9)
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Slim, well- dressed, quiet, Herbert made no particular impression on
anybody he met, probably he was some kind of businessman, though
he never quite got around to saying what he did. Perhaps you'd meet
him again, perhaps you wouldn't, it didn't particularly matter. He
circulated comfortably at the mid- level of Berlin society, turning up
here and there, invited or not - what could you do, you couldn't ask
him to leave. Anyhow, nobody ever did, and he was always pleasant.
There were, however, a few individuals in Berlin - those with uncommonly
sharp instincts, those who somehow heard interesting things -
who met Herbert only once. They didn't precisely avoid him, not
overtly, they just weren't where he was or, if they were, they soon had
to be elsewhere and, all courtesy, vanished.
What did they know? They didn't know much, in fact they'd better
not. Because Herbert had a certain vocation, supposedly secret to
all but those who made use of his services. Exceptional services: silent,
and efficient. For example, surveillance on Prideaux was in place
within hours of Herbert's meeting with his contact at the Foreign
Ministry, and Prideaux was not entirely alone as he climbed aboard
the first of the trains that would take him to Varna. Where Herbert,
informed of Prideaux's booking on the Olympios, awaited him. Herbert
and his second- in- command, one Lothar, had hired a plane and
pilot and fl own to an airfield near Varna a night earlier and, on the
evening of the fourteenth, they called off their associates and sent
them back to wherever they came from. The Greek freighter was not
expected at the dock until the sixteenth and would likely be late, so
Prideaux wasn't going anywhere.
He really wasn't.
Which meant Herbert and Lothar could relax. For a while, at
least, as only one final task lay ahead of them and they had a spare
hour or two. Why not have fun in the interim? They had a contact
scheduled at a local nightclub and so went looking for it, working
their way through a maze of dockside streets; dark, twisting lanes
decorated with broken glass and scented with urine, where in time
they came upon an iron door beneath a board that said uncle boris.
Inside, Herbert handed the maître d' a fistful of leva notes and the
one-eyed monster showed them to a table in the corner, said something
amusing in Bulgarian, laughed, made as though to slap Herbert
on the back, then didn't. The two Germans settled in to drink mastika
and enjoy the show, keeping an eye on the door as they awaited
the appearance of their "brute," as they playfully referred to him.
Their brute for this operation, Herbert rarely used them more than
Lothar was fiftyish, fat and jolly, with tufts of dark red hair and
a red face. Like Herbert, he'd been a junior officer during the Great
War, the 1914 war, but they never met in the trenches - with five
million men under arms an unlikely possibility - but found each
other later, in one of the many veterans' organizations that formed
in Germany after the defeat of 1918. They fought a little more in
the 1920s, after joining a militia, killing off the communists who
were trying to take over the country. By the early 1930s Herbert had
discovered his true vocation and enlisted Lothar as his second-in-command.
A wise choice - Lothar was all business when it mattered
but he was also good company. As the nightclub show unfolded,
he nudged Herbert with an elbow and rumbled with baritone
In a space cleared of chairs and tables, a novelty act from somewhere
in the Balkans: a two- man canvas horse that danced and capered,
the front and rear halves in perfect harmony. Done well, this
was by itself entertaining, but what made it memorable was a girl, in
scanty, spangled costume, who played the accordion as she stood center
stage on a pair of very sexy legs. The men in the club found them
enticing, bare and shapely, as did the canvas horse, which danced
nearer and nearer to the girl, the head lunging and feinting as though
to nuzzle her thighs, then turning to the audience: Shall I?
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.