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 once.
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 laughter.
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.
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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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