Oh yes! The shouts were in Bulgarian but there was no question of what they meant. "Will it have her?" Herbert said.
"I should think so," Lothar said. "Otherwise people will throw things."
The one-eyed monster brought fresh mastika, the shouts grew louder, the accordion played on. At last, the horse found its courage and, having galloped around the girl a few times, stood in back of her on its hind legs with its hooves on her shoulders. The girl never missed a beat but then, when the horse covered her breasts with its hooves, and to the absolute delight of the audience, she blushed, her face turning pink, her eyes closing. As the horse began to move in a rhythmic manner familiar to all.
A little after ten o'clock, a white-haired man with a skull for a face entered the nightclub and peered around the room. When Herbert beckoned to him he approached the table and stood there a moment while the attentive one-eyed monster brought a chair and an extra glass. "You would be Aleksey?" Herbert said. "The Russian?"
"That's right." German was the second language of eastern Europe and Aleksey seemed comfortable speaking it.
"So I'm called - there are many other Alekseys. How did you recognize me?"
"My associate in Belgrade sent me a photograph."
"I don't remember him taking a photograph."
Herbert's shrug was eloquent, they did what they wanted to do.
"In security work," he said, "it's important to take precautions."
"Yes, of course it is," Aleksey said, letting them know he wasn't intimidated.
"Your contract with us calls for payment in Swiss francs, once you've done your job, is that right?"
"Yes. Two thousand Swiss francs."
"If I may ask," Herbert said, "of what army a general?"
"The Russian army, the Czar's army. Not the Bolsheviks."
"So, after 1917, you emigrated to Belgrade."
" 'Emigrated' is barely the word. But, yes, I went to Belgrade, to the émigré community there. Fellow Slavs, the Serbians, all that."
"Do you have with you... what you'll need?"
"Yes. Small but dependable."
"As you ordered."
"Good. My colleague and I are going out for a while, when we return it will be time for you to do your work. You've done it before, we're told."
"I've done many things, as I don't care to sweep floors, and Belgrade has more than enough émigré taxi drivers." He paused a moment, then said, "So..."
From Herbert, a nod of approval. To the question he'd asked, an oblique answer was apparently the preferred answer. As General Aleksey poured himself some mastika, Herbert met Lothar's eyes and gestured toward the door. To Aleksey he said, "We have an errand to run, when we return we'll tell you where to go. Meanwhile, the floor show should start up again any time now, you may find it amusing."
"How long will you be gone?"
"Not too long," Herbert said, rising to leave.
Prideaux had packed in a hurry, forgetting his pajama bottoms, and now wore the top and his underdrawers. Alone in a foreign city, he was terribly bored, by ten in the evening had read, for the third time, his last French newspaper. He was also hungry - the desk clerk had brought him a plate of something that couldn't be eaten - so smoked the last of his Gitanes followed by the fi rst of a packet he'd bought at the Varna railway station. Surely he couldn't go anywhere; a nighttime tour of the Varna waterfront with a million francs in a valise was an invitation to disaster. Stretching out on the bed, he stared at the ceiling, tried not to recall his former life, and fantasized about his new one. Rich and mysterious, he drew the attention of women...
A reverie interrupted by two hesitant taps on the door. Now what? Somebody from the hotel; if he remained quiet, perhaps they would go away. They didn't. Thirty seconds later, more taps. He rose from the bed and considered putting on his trousers but thought, who cares what servants see? and stayed as he was. Standing at the door, he said,
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
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