"You mean Herr Hoff, sir."
"Yes, Hoff. Have him work up a background study, all the usual items."
"I'll do that, sir, as soon as I return to the office."
14 September. After midnight, the liner Ile de France rising and falling on the mid-Atlantic swell, a light sea breeze, the stars a million diamonds spread across a black sky. And, Stahl thought, a woman in my arms. Or at least by his side. They lay together on a deck chair, she in formal gown, he in tuxedo, the warmth of her body welcome on the chilly night, the soft weight of her breast, resting gently against him, a promise that wouldn't be kept but a sweet promise just the same. Edith, he thought. Or was it Edna? He wasn't sure so would avoid using her name, perhaps call her... what? Well, not my dear, anything was better than that, which he found stilted and pretentious though God knew he'd said it a few times. Said it because he'd had to, it was written so in the script and he was Fredric Stahl, yes, the Hollywood movie star, that Fredric Stahl, and he'd made a fortune using phrases like my dear, which melted the hearts of women from coast to coast when spoken in his faintly foreign accent.
Thus Warner Bros. "Why not Fredric Stahl, hunh? With that European accent?" And just how hard he'd worked to get that accent right they'd never know. He certainly wasn't alone in this; the En glish Archie Leach had become Cary Grant by sounding like a sophisticated gent from the east coast, while the Hungarian Peter Lorre developed a voice - insinuating, oily, and menacing - that suggested vaguely Continental origin.
"Penny for your thoughts," the woman said.
"Such a beautiful night," he said. She moved closer to him, the gin on her breath strong in his nostrils. "Who would've thought you'd be so nice?" she said. "I mean, in person." In response, he put his arm around her shoulders and hugged her a little.
They'd met on the night the Ile de France sailed from New York, at the captain's table in the fi rst- class dining room. A long- suffering, pretty wife she was, her husband three sheets to the wind when they appeared for dinner. Soon he announced, in the middle of someone else's story, that he owned a Cadillac dealership in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.
"That's on the Main Line, in case you don't know." By the third night his table companions knew very well indeed, because he kept repeating it, and at last his wife, Edith, maybe Edna, dealt with the situation by taking him back to their cabin. She then reappeared and when, after dessert, Stahl said he was going for a walk on deck, she caught up to him at the portholed doors to the dining room and said, "Can I come along for the walk, Mr. Stahl?" They walked, smoked, leaned on the rail, sometimes she held her hair back to keep it from blowing around. Finally he found a deck chair - the sling in French Line colors, the footrest polished teak - and they snuggled down together to enjoy the night at sea.
"Tell me, umm, where are you going in Europe?" he said.
"It's Iris - I bet you forgot."
"I won't again."
"Paree," she said. "Brussels, Amsterdam, Geneva, Rome, Vienna.
There's more, oh, ah, Venice. I'm still forgetting one."
"Nooo, I don't think so."
After a moment, Stahl said, "You'll see a lot."
"Where are you going, Mr. Stahl?"
"Just to Paris, to make a movie. And please call me Fredric."
"Oh, is that all? 'Just to Paris'? 'To make a movie'?" A ladylike snort followed. She was already writing the postcard. You'll never guess who I... "Are you French, Fredric?"
"I was born in Vienna, wandered about the world for a time, lived and worked in Paris, then, in the summer of 1930, Hollywood. I'm an American now." He paused, then said, "Tell me, Iris, when you planned the trip, did you think about the politics, in Europe?"
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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