"Who is it?"
"The desk clerk, sir."
"What do you want?"
No answer. Out in the harbor, a ship sounded its horn. From the room above, the floorboards creaked as somebody moved about. Finally, whoever was in the hall again tapped on the door. Prideaux opened it. The man in the hallway was slim and well- dressed and not a desk clerk. Gently but firmly, the man pushed the door open, then closed it behind him as he entered the room. "Monsieur Prideaux?" he said. "May we speak for a moment?" His French was correct, his accent barbaric. He looked around for a chair but there was no such thing to be found, not in this room, so he settled at the foot of the bed while Prideaux sat by the headboard.
Prideaux's heart was beating hard, and he hoped desperately that this was something other than what he suspected. "You're not the desk clerk, sir."
Herbert, his expression on the mournful side, shook his head slowly. "No," he said. "I am not."
"Then who are you?" But for the whine in his voice, this would have been indignant.
Herbert said, "Think of me as a courier."
"A courier. I've come here to recover something that belongs to us - it certainly doesn't belong to you."
Prideaux looked puzzled. "What are you talking about?" Herbert, no more than slightly irritated, simply said, "Please."
"I don't know what you want, sir, I simply got fed up with life in Paris and came down here. How does that concern you, whoever you are?"
Herbert turned toward the window - this was growing tiresome. "I hope there's no need for violence, Monsieur Prideaux, my associates are downstairs but please don't force me to bring them up here.
Better that way, believe me. I am, as I said, a courier, and my instructions are to take the money you've stolen back to Berlin. After that, we don't care what you do or where you go, it doesn't concern us." Prideaux collapsed very slowly; the hauteur in his expression drained away, his shoulders slumped, and finally his head lowered so that he stared at the floor.
Herbert took no pleasure in this - a show of humiliation was, to him, unbearable weakness. And what might come next, he wondered. Tears? Hysterics? Aggression? Whatever it might be, he didn't want to see it. "I'm sure," he said, his voice reaching for sympathy, "there was a reason. There's always a reason."
Prideaux started to rise, but Herbert stood up quickly, raised a hand like a traffic policeman stopping a car, and a defeated Prideaux sat obediently back down on the bed. Herbert stayed on his feet, stared at Prideaux for a moment, then said, "Monsieur Prideaux, I think it will be easier for both of us if you simply tell me where the money is. Really, much easier."
It took a few seconds - Prideaux had to get control of himself - then he said, so quietly that Herbert could only just hear the words,
"Under the bed."
Herbert slid the valise from beneath the bed, undid the buckles, and peered inside. "Where are your personal things?" he said. Prideaux gestured toward another valise, standing open at the foot of the bed.
"Did you put any of the money in there? Have you spent some of it? Or is it all, every franc of it, in here? Best now to be truthful."
"It's all there," Prideaux said.
Herbert closed the valise and pulled the straps tight. "Well, we'll see. I'm going to take this money away and count it and, if you've been honest with me I'll be back, and I'll give you a few hundred francs - at least something for wherever you're going next. Shall I tell you why?" Prideaux, staring at the fl oor, didn't answer.
"It's because people like you can be useful, in certain situations, and people like you never have enough money. So, when such people help us out, with whatever we might need, we are always generous.
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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