Inside, a small, square room with no windows and, except for a ceiling painted as the night sky--blue background, gold dots for stars, a silver sickle moon on the horizon--there was only fabric. Carpets covered the walls and the floor, a circle of hassocks was gathered around a low table with a brass tray that occupied most of its surface. As DeHaan entered, a man seated in a wheelchair--made entirely of wood except for rubber tires on the spoked wheels--extended his hand and said, "Captain DeHaan, welcome, thank you for coming, I am Marius Hoek." Hoek had a powerful grip. In his fifties, he was pale as a ghost, with sheared fair hair and eyeglasses that went opaque, catching the light of a lamp in the corner, as he looked up at DeHaan.
Rising from their hassocks to greet him, the other dinner guests: a woman in a chalk-stripe suit and a dark shirt, a man in the uniform of a Dutch naval officer, and Wim Terhouven, owner of the Netherlands Hyperion Line--his employer. DeHaan turned to Terhouven, as though for explanation, and found him much amused, all sly grin, at the prospect of the famously composed Captain DeHaan, who couldn't imagine what the hell was going on and showed it. "Hello, Eric," Terhouven said, taking DeHaan's hand in his. "The bad penny always turns up, eh?" He patted DeHaan on the shoulder, don't worry, m'boy, and said, "May I present Juffrouw, ah, Wilhelm?"
Formally, DeHaan shook her hand. "Just Wilhelm will do," she said. "Everybody calls me that." She wore no makeup, had fine, delicate features, was about thirty-five years old, he guessed, with thick, honey-gold hair cut very short and parted on the side.
"And," Terhouven said, "this is Commander Hendryk Leiden."
Leiden was broad and bulky, bald halfway back, with a drinker's purplish nose, a sailor's wind-chapped complexion, and a full beard. "Good to meet you, Captain," he said.
"Come sit down," Terhouven said. "Enjoy the walk over here?"
DeHaan nodded. "It's the same restaurant?"
"The private room--who says it has to be upstairs?" He laughed. "And, on the way, a taste of the real Tangier, assassins behind every door."
"Well, that or couscous."
Wilhelm liked the joke. "It's good, Al Mounia, a local favorite."
DeHaan lowered himself onto a hassock as Terhouven poured him a glass of gin from an old-fashioned ceramic jug. "Classic stuff," he said.
"They sell this in Tangier?"
Terhouven snorted. He had a devil's beard and the eyes to go with it. "Not this they don't. This came across on a trawler in May of '40 and flew with me all the way from London, just for your party. Real Geneva, made in Schiedam." He tapped the label, hand-lettered and fired into the glazed surface.
"My friends," Leiden said, "with your permission." He stood, glass held high, and the others, except for Hoek, followed his example. Leiden paused for a long moment, then said, "De Nederland." In one voice, they echoed his words, and DeHaan saw that Hoek, knuckles white where his hand gripped the arm of the chair, had raised himself off the seat to honor the toast. They drank next to victory, Hoek's offering, and, from Wilhelm, success in new ventures, as Terhouven caught DeHaan's eye and gave him a conspiratorial flick of the eyebrows. Then it was up to DeHaan, who'd been desperate for the right words from the moment Leiden lifted his glass. Finally, as the others turned to him in expectation, he said, quietly, "Well then, to absent friends." This was conventional and wellworn but, on that night, with those friends in a Europe held by barbed wire and searchlights, it came back to life.
Terhouven said, "Amen to that," and began to refill the glasses. When he was done he said, "I propose we drink to Captain Eric DeHaan, our guest of honor, who I know you will come to appreciate as I have." DeHaan lowered his eyes, and was more than grateful when the toast had been drunk and the group returned to conversation.
Excerpted from Dark Voyage by Alan Furst Copyright© 2004 by Alan Furst. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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