`And yet you're walking headlong into it?'
`I'll arrive at exactly 11.45. After breakfast you show me the place…'
`The rendezvous is 11.5o; she reminded him.
`So I arrive five minutes early and wait to see who does come into that room. Warner could have been followed.'
'He was always extremely careful,' she observed.
`He is now extremely dead…'
In Munich the wide avenue of Maximilianstrasse leads straight as a ruler from Max-Joseph-Platz to the Bavarian state Parliament on an eminence overlooking the river Isar. To reach the east bank it passes over two bridges as it crosses a large island. The body was found trapped on the brink of one of the giant sluices below the first bridge.
It was discovered about two hours before Martel sat down to fortify himself at the Metropol in St. Gallen with a considerable breakfast. A lawyer on his way to work glanced over the parapet as he crossed the bridge. In the river a series of giant steps like four great weirs carried the swift flow of the water. At each step there is a series of square cement pillars at intervals. The corpse was folded round one of these pillars, snagged by chance.
The Kriminalpolizei arrived with a doctor to supervise retrieval of their evidence when a frogman had reported the man had been shot in the head. A preliminary examination was carried out inside an ambulance by the riverside. Chief- Inspector Kruger looked at the doctor after a few minutes.
'Surely you can tell me something? I have a pile of work on my desk a mile high and my wife is beginning to ask questions about my secretary when I arrive home.'
'Get a less attractive secretary,' the doctor suggested. 'Shot three times in the head. Powder burns visible. Likely time of death – but don't hold me to it – within past twelve hours. And no signs of rope abrasions on the wrists so they didn't tie him up to murder him. ,
'I can at least check through his clothes for identification? That really is most kind of you, Doctor.'
Kruger searched quickly with expert fingers while his deputy, Weil, carefully said nothing. He could tell from his chiefs expression that he was not pleased. He completed the search without producing one single item from the waterlogged body's pockets.
'No means of identification,' Kruger announced. 'That's just what I need. I can see what kind of a day this is going to be…' 'His watch,' replied Weil.
He lifted the corpse's left arm which seemed to weigh a ton and unstrapped the watch which had stopped at 0200 hours. He showed Kruger the back plate of the watch which was made of steel and had a single word engraved on it.
'One hell of a lot of help,' commented Kruger.
The word engraved in the plate was Stahl.
On their way to the Embroidery Museum Martel and Claire walked arm in arm. It was Martel who had made the suggestion. 'A couple is far less conspicuous,' he commented.
'If you say so…
He bridled. 'Use your head. Two groups may be hunting for us. Delta for me – so they will search for a single, man. Arnold's mob for you – so they'll look for a single girl…'
'Logical, I suppose,' she said indifferently.
'And never let emotion cloud your judgement. I make it 11.30, fifteen minutes before I have to be inside that museum. That wallplate says Vadianstrasse
`The Embroidery Museum is at the far end on the left-hand side – and I've decided, I'm coming with you…'
'Not inside the place. I'll find somewhere nearby to park you.'
'I'm not a bloody car!' she flared up. She played her part well, hugging his arm and staring up at him with lover's eyes as she hissed the words. 'You're expecting trouble – you brought a silencer for your Colt.'
'I told you – nothing so far has been what it seemed and I have an idea the trend will continue.'
During their walk Martel had observed that St. Gallen was located inside a deep notch or gulch. Hemmed in on two sides by vertical hill-slopes, the shopping area had been built on the floor of the gorge. Stepped up on the hillsides, one above another, were large solid-looking villas erected in the previous century. -
The weather was again clammy with a heavy overcast and there was a hint of a storm in the air. Martel walked more slowly as they came closer to the entrance, his eyes scanning the area for signs of danger. He stopped again to look in a shop window but no one followed his example. On the surface the area was clean – only women shoppers, smartly dressed, strolling along the street.
'The police station isn't near, is it?' he murmured.
'As a matter of fact it is. Stadtpolizei is at Neugasse 5 – the first turning off to the left from that street over there…'
`Great! How far away on foot – walking fast? The Swiss police can walk fast.'
`Less than five minutes – two if they use a car. Why?'
`I like to know where all the pieces on the board are – in case of emergency.'
They had left the shop and walked the full length of the building containing the museum. Claire pointed to where the Old Town started while Martel searched for a convenient cafe to leave her. They should have allowed more time.
`Looking for somewhere to park the car?' she enquired. `Well I've found the ideal place – and I can watch the entrance to the museum without anyone seeing me…'
She was pointing across the wide street to an orange booth with a black curtain pulled back revealing a metal stool. In large letters over the booth were the words PRONTOPHOT PASSFOTOS.
`I'd better grab the seat before someone else decides they want a passport picture,' she said. `Good luck. Don't forget to collect me on your way out. I don't want to sit there all day taking my picture – the results are lousy…'
Martel took one final look-round. He couldn't rid himself of the feeling something was wrong about the atmosphere. Shrugging his shoulders, he crossed Vadianstrasse, opened the door and went inside.
It was exactly as Claire had described: a wide flight of steps leading up into a large entrance hall. At a ticket window he paid a woman two francs fifty for a ticket like the one he had in his pocket, the one Warner had purchased. While buying it he held a handkerchief over his face and blew his nose incessantly. The woman behind the window would never be able to identify him later.
A notice indicated that the museum was on the first floor. He climbed two longer flights of steps. There was no one else about, the atmosphere was hushed. He could see why Warner had chosen this place and this time for meeting his Delta contact. On the wall outside the front entrance a plate had given the opening hours. 10.00 – 12.00 and 14.00 – 17.00. When the place closed at midday who else would arrive at 11.50?
To his left along the wide landing were a pair of double doors leading to the library. Very quietly, his soft-soled shoes making no noise, he walked to the library and tried the door. It was locked. He crossed back over the landing quickly and tried the Embroidery Museum door. It gave way under his pressure. He stepped inside, closed it and scanned the silent room.
The exhibits were in glass cases standing in various positions in a large room with windows overlooking Vadianstrasse. Before he was convinced the place was empty he checked several alcoves. Then he extracted the Colt from his shoulder holster and screwed on the silencer. His watch registered precisely 11.50 when he saw the handle of the door turning slowly.
He watched, fascinated, the Colt held behind his back, as the turning handle completed its revolution and then remained in that position without the door opening. It was a good ten seconds before the door began moving slowly inwards. Martel stepped back out of sight.
Because his hearing was acute he heard the slight click – the release of the door-handle after closing. He controlled his breathing. The silence in the museum room was so complete the patter of a mouse across the wood-block floor would have been heard.
Soon the new arrival, Stahl, would come into view. Was he checking to make sure he was alone? Or did he – as Martel would have done in his place – sense a presence in that silent archive of the ages, the repository of craftwork by people who had died centuries earlier…?
It was a man in a light overcoat and smart trilby. Very like a businessman. Like the men who had flooded out of the Rolls and the Mercedes in Bahnhofstrasse. Under the hat a bleak white bony face. In his lapel a silver triangular badge, the symbol of Delta.
In his right hand he held an object like a felt-tip pen – the needle-blade was already projecting ready for action. The click Martel had assumed to be the door-handle had been the pressing of the button which projected the blade.
When he appeared the bony-faced man was only a few feet from Martel. Stiffening his hand, he lunged forward, the needle-point aimed at Martel's stomach. The Englishman remained exactly where he was, jerked up the Colt and fired twice in rapid succession. The phut-phut of the silenced gun sounded unnaturally loud in the hushed atmosphere.
The bony-faced man dropped his hypodermic weapon and reeled backwards. He slammed into one of the display cases, flopped sideways and his head crashed down thtough the glass lid. As his legs gave way he slithered to the floor, his heels making runnels across the polished surface. A stream of blood gushed from his torn face.
Martel left the museum without being seen. As he slipped past the ticket window he glimpsed a woman's back. She was drinking from a cup. The Colt was rammed inside his belt. They closed in less than five minutes. He had to get out on the street. But they were waiting for him out there. Delta.
They had sent in a single man to do the job but they would have people outside as back-up. It was that kind of thorough organisation. Martel had not forgotten the nightmare in Bahnhofstrasse. The audacity, the ferocity. He opened the door and stepped out into Vadianstrasse.
Everything seemed normal. Housewives out shopping, singly or in couples. A man wearing yellow oil-skins and a cap, carrying some kind of bag, leaned against a wall on the opposite side. He was trying to light a cigarette: the lighter seemed to be defective.
Claire! He had to protect Claire, to lead them away from her. Already one Hofer – Lisbeth – had been killed. And they were out here somewhere. He could see Claire's legs below the closed curtain inside the photo booth. He began walking.
He timed it carefully. Taking out his holder to make himself conspicuous he inserted a cigarette. He stopped alongside the booth and cupped his hand to use the lighter, to conceal the fact that he was talking. The curtain was open a fraction of an inch He didn't look towards the booth as he spoke.
`They sent a Delta operative. He's dead inside the museum. I am giving you an order. Stay there, give me two minutes to lead anyone out here away, then get to hell back to the Metropol and wait till I contact you…'
Then he was moving away, heading into the Old Town where the road surfaces were cobbled, the buildings ancient, the shops new. He turned into Neugasse and followed the curve of the street.
Neugasse 5, Claire had said. Police headquarters. Five minutes' walk, two or less by car. He had to pinpoint the opposition and this should give him more time. The bastards could hardly start something in close proximity to a police station. He stopped to look in a window.
He had no idea what the shop sold. He was concentrating on a reflection. The man in yellow oil-skins had stopped on the other side of the narrow street. He was staring into another window, holding a large carrier bag and puffing at his cigarette. His lighter had conveniently worked as soon as Martel began moving.
The Englishman sucked at his holder. Something was wrong. Something more than the fact that it appeared he was being shadowed by Yellow Oil-skins. He resumed his walk. Stadtpolizei. Walls a muddy grey roughcast, grey shutters almost merging into the walls. An archway entrance wide enough for a single car. He walked on.
He was approaching an intersection, a more spacious area which, he remembered from the street map Claire had shown him, was the Markt-Gasse. He turned left and stopped to drop his half-smoked cigarette which he stubbed under his heel. The possibility of a coincidence ended. Yellow Oil-skins was looking in yet another shop window. Something was very wrong indeed.
It was too damned obvious: using as a shadow a man clad in an outfit which could be picked out hundreds of yards away. It was as though he were making his presence as conspicuous as possible – to divert Martel's attention from someone else. The danger was going to come from another quarter.
He stood on the kerb gazing at a curious spectacle. In the middle of the street stood a small train for children made up of wooden, open-sided coaches with canvas canopies. At the front was a black railway engine with a gold trim and the driver, a man, was operating a whistle 'to signal imminent departure. Each of the coaches carried four children, two facing each other. A couple of coaches were occupied by mothers sitting with their offspring. The trolley-car train was large enough to carry adults.
Yellow Oil-skins remained staring into a window displaying ladies' underwear, for God's sake! Martel moved quickly, leaving the train still stationary. If there was to be havoc – Zurich-style – it must not happen near those children. Ahead he saw a buff-coloured building which was the Hotel Hecht – where Claire had originally been staying. Crossing the road, he concentrated his attention on everyone except Yellow Oil-skins.
The attack came from the least-expected quarter at a moment when his alertness was briefly distracted by an astonishing sight. He was walking past the Hecht when he heard a piercing shriek, the train's whistle. It had followed him as it proceeded confidently amid the traffic to pass alongside the Hecht. In the last coach on the side nearest to him sat Claire Hofer.
The seat next to her was occupied by a small girl and two more children faced them. They were all looking away from the Hecht while Claire stared straight at him. Under cover of her handbag, the flap open, she was holding her pistol, the barrel aimed towards him.