s e r i a l ,  p a r t  f i ve 


Agent Nine, Part 4
Agent Nine, Part 3
Agent Nine, Part 2
Agent Nine, Part 1



Episode One, Clues One and Two

Episode Two, Clues Three and Four

Episode Three, Clues Five and Six

Episode Four, Clues Seven and Eight

The plot thickens, her pulse quickens: Alice awakes the next morning to find a note tucked under her door.

We’ll talk business at breakfast, it says. I take room service at eight. The coat of arms with the minks is at the top of the page, and there’s a room number at the bottom.

The Countess turned out to be a very big swell. For the morning rendezvous, she had not even bothered to get out of bed. She was either the kind of person who went straight to sleep with her day clothes on or else she was using sheets that were made out of fur. She looked just the way she did in the photograph, only her nose was more so. In one hand she grasped an enormous carrot, and in the other she held a glass of some clear liquid.

“You have me in an uncomfortable position,” she was saying.

Alice had a donut and a cup of coffee (black). She sat by the side of the bed and nodded.

The Countess was in the game for the money. The auction that evening would produce many bidders. Why should she cut a deal with the first customer who came her way? The thing was, Alice had no authority to name a price herself. She had no idea how much mazuma Mr. Vinup was holding.

“I am good for ninety thousand down,” she decided. Surely the Inspector would have provided the minimum specified in the note?

Now the Countess was sipping delicately from her glass. It did not seem to be water. “Needless to say, that is a tidy sum of money,” she said expansively. “But you rrealize that that is where I expect the bidding to begin? Ninety thousand dollars is the so-called floor. Now, if it so transpires that yours is the only offer, then it will be my pleasure to offer the information to you. But between you and myself, I would not be awerse to a larger remunerration.”

Her eyes and mouth took on a broad grimace. “Because, darling, I can tell you—I have some bills that are not to be believed.”

“I would have to speak to the boss about it,” said Alice. The Countess shrugged.

“Needless to say, that is your prerrogative. But have that talk before we conwene the auction tonight.”

“Your goods are resoived for the highest bidder. Is that the final word?”

“If you are prepared to offer further funds, well then, needless to say.…”

Straight into the Countess’s eyes looked Alice Rocket. There she detected two ice-blue dollar signs. How easy that look is to recognize, she thought, wondering: Just what is it that the Countess sees in me?

Big wide-awake eyes, serious eyebrows, bad teeth. Boots that haven’t been shined since Brooklyn. She thinks I am a greenhorn, Alice thought, but she is going to be wrong. “Lady,” she told the Countess in her imagination, “I am one of the cooler customers you will ever meet. I am cooler than cucumber sherbert.”

She finished a deep drink of coffee and put her cup down. Her mind was beginning to work.

“I don’t know, but it seems to me…,” she said shyly. “With your permission, Countess? Let’s suppose I was in your shoes.”

“Of courrse,” smiled the Countess.

“Needless to say, I am not,” Alice said quickly. “But if it was my business to run your business, I would think twicet before turning somebody like me down. On account of I am something you do not come across every day. I am what is known in my country as a sure thing.”

The Countess put her drink down on the bedstand next to Alice. It smelled very nasty. She reached ice-cold fingers over to Alice’s hand and spoke hungry words: “You need to say what you mean by that remarrk.”

“I am a Free-Lancer. I have ninety thousand chips. I am willing to give it all to you now for this Pyramid Scheme, no questions asked,” she began. “Now, look at the situation from my pernt of view. I am telling you more funds are available, but I can not guarantee. That is for my supervisor to decide. I do not have to tell him much. But I do need to tell him enough to get him interested. That’s the trick with secrets, am I right?

“Tonight, when you go up to the auction block, you will have to describe your goods before the bidding begins. Otherwise nobody is going to have an idea what sort of moichandise it is. All I am asking you to do is to give me the scoop on your opening pitch. You would be giving my people some time to see if it’s worth their while, and you would be doing us both a big favor.” She concluded with a juicy bite of her jelly donut.

“Do you mean that you don’t know if your superiors will be present at the auction or not?”

“That is about the size of it,” Alice admitted. The donut had squirted jelly all over her face.

“My darling,” said the Countess, “as I am sure you do already rrealize, my so-called adwertisements are sent to a very exclusive clientele.…” Her words dissolved in a cackle.

Just what was so funny? Alice could only see that a mink stole seemed to be slipping out of place around the Countess’s throat. It did look sort of ticklish.

Shimmying her shoulders, the Countess continued: “Anyone interested enough to put up ninety thousand Mexican dollars already has a pretty good idea what she is shopping for. It is not my policy to diwulge further information at any length of time prior to the transaction. At gatherings such as this, there are always a great many people who are inclined to be unfriendly and need only a carelessly dropped detail of my current business to take action on their feelings of ill will or what have you. Needless to say, those are the people to whom I do not adwertise; but between you and myself, I have quite a rreputation—oh, my rreputation is not to be believed.… Ha, ha, ha!

“In short, my darling,” she concluded, dabbing at Alice’s mouth with her fingertips, “I would say your bluffing is getting a little peski.”

She waved her jelly-stained finger under the head end of the stole, and the mink came to life and lapped at it with a long, pink tongue. “Nicky, my darling, my darling sweet Nikolasha,” she murmured, and, completely absorbed, spoke to him in a language Alice supposed was Russian.

“If I could only ask you a couple of questions,” she tried, “and you could answer me, yes or nix.”

“I would not be so rude to suggest you were wasting my time, darling. But it is just possible that I may be wasting yours.” The Countess looked up from playing with her pet. “Pardon. The atmosphere is getting a little muski.”

It was perverse of the woman, Alice thought, to devote so much affection to one live mink when she was wrapped in the dead bodies of about fifty others. The real sucker, she supposed, was the mink.…

“And I am the weasel,” she told herself sternly; and she spoke up, using a firm tone of voice.

“No, sister. When you hear me out, you will waste my time no more. The kind of deal I have to offer is not what you are accustomed to.”

“Of course, darling. You rrealize I had forgotten that you are the so-called sure thing.”

“When you pitch a story,” persisted Alice, “you guarantee exclusive rights?”

“Say what you mean.”

“You promise the highest bidder confidential information.”

“Needless to—”

“Why not,” said Alice, “sell to more than one bidder?”

A clear gleam appeared in the Countess’s eye and she sat upright in bed, looking like a fox hearing the hunting horn go off. Just as suddenly, she flopped her head back on the pillow, where she stared at the ceiling for a moment or two. Then—“This is not to be believed,” she said with feeling, and Alice could tell that she had pulled something off at last.

“Would you not want confidentiality yourself?” the Countess asked. “That’s another tricky thing about secrets.”

“That is a decision we leave up to my boss,” proposed Alice. “I deliver you ninety thousand down, you sell the secret to whomsoever you favor—but you also share it with me. Or else the party I work for decides he wants it all to himself. Then we take our chances at the auction. Say we lose out at the bidding, we still get you the kale to cut us in on the secret.

“That it where one might say it is a sure thing. Everything is square, and you are ninety thousand to the good—just don’t tell the official customer his shipment was serled in transit.”

The Countess was nervous. She chewed on a knuckle. “What of so-called business ethics? You rrealize I have a rreputation to uphold.”

“Oh, as far as this little chat is consoined, I’ll give you my own poisonal guarantee of confidentiality,” Alice said cheerfully. “You don’t have to worry none about me—I got no reputation myself.”

“That surprises me,” said the Countess, with real warmth in her voice.

Drawn again to her pet, she stroked the pointy little head and pretended to talk it over with him, moving her lips without making a sound. Then she seemed to make up her mind all at once.

“Agent Nine, we deal on your terms. Prowided you settle for a werbal agreement.”

Agent Nine’s heart felt huge. “What’s a piece of paper between friends,” she grinned.

There was something musteline about the Countess herself as she turned her head to bring it right up close by Alice’s. Her eyes took on a searching and intimate look. She took up her glass, raising it to eye level.

“I drink to our partnership,” she said, and drained the glass, pivoting her entire body back from the waist. Gamely, Alice gulped down the rest of her coffee. The Countess tossed her glass into the corner of the wall, where it smashed into pieces like so much shaved ice. Alice sent the coffee cup after it. Then, as one, they spat in their palms and clapped them together, shaking hands and staring at each other without blinking.

“Before I was a Countess, I studied accounting,” said the Countess. “But that’s between you and myself.”

Now, the gears and cogs in her brain were all snap, crackle, and popping, but Alice did her best to keep it under her hat. Hands folded and legs crossed, as if to keep down any scruples that might try to arise, she sent a demure smile at the heavy-lidded Countess and took a good look at her conscience. What of so-called business ethics, she wondered.

“There is no code of business ethics in my line,”—sure, that was what Mr. Vinup had said. Then again, this was the man who had abandoned his young partner for that wanton won-ton. Had he been talking about his rivals’ lack of ethics, or about his own? The cockeyed thing about it all, she reflected, was that he could just as well have been speaking of a certain Agent Nine.…

Agent Nine was playing hardball with a curve ball. Agent Nine was playing the Countess like a violin. With each second that passed, her thoughts were getting her deeper into trouble. She was frightening herself. She was thrilling herself.

She had certainly laid out a sound setup: she could guarantee delivery of the blueprints, whichever way things went. And as of right now, every detail she could get out of the Countess was a clue that could help her and Mr. Vinup—if he ever came back to her—reach a decision before the auction began.

Would they enter the bidding? Or settle for second-hand goods after all?

Or—depending on what Mr. Vinup was actually up to—would they go for the new course of action that had just now begun to suggest itself: Bypass the middleman, save the Inspector a bundle, and win the secret in a decisive strike straight at its Oriental source! Agent Nine had not lost all faith in her employer. She had been thinking that after all, it was just possible that, instead of Mr. Vinup playing into Poppyseed Passion’s switchbladelike hands, it was he who had her in his clutches.

Was the secret with Fang? If nothing else, that was the one thing to make sure of..…

“This Pyramid Scheme, Countess,” said Alice with great self-assurance. “It wouldn’t have anything to do with a secret doomsday weapon or anything like that, would it?”

“This inwention will transform the strategic calculations of the arrmies of the worrld, Agent Nine.”

She would never be Darling again. “You might say it would revolutionize warfare as we know it.”

“Death and destrruction will never be the same.”

“I expect the English government, for example, would be pretty satisfied to get their mitts on this product,” she offered, and bated her breath.

“The English, of all the Great Powers, have reason to be inwolwed,” the Countess revealed, an earnest look in her eye. “But between you and myself, as one prrofessional to another, I have decided not to approach them. For reasons that will become clear upon purchase of the material, to make a move like that would have been getting a little riski.”

“Heavens to Moigatrerd,” said Agent Nine to herself. “I have got the drop on the woild.”

She sorted through the clues in her mind. If it was truly Doctor Fang behind the Pyramid Scheme, that would explain several things:

If it was Doctor Fang, then certainly—as she recalled the words of the Inspector—the English would be interested, for Scotland Yard had just caught word of his return.

If it was Doctor Fang, then probably—since Mr. Vinup may have talked—Fang’s agent had known that Alice was after her goods; and that would mean that she had indeed been marked for murder in the hallway.

But then again, if it was Doctor Fang, then possibly—despite the way things looked—Mr. Vinup might actually know what he was doing.

She said to the Countess: “Sister, about this mad scientist you mentioned in your letter. He has a pretty big outfit backing him up, don’t he? He has got the means to float his scheme?”

“My dear Agent Nine,” the Countess confided, “our mastermind is at the head of a titanic international organization. His intellectual, financial, and human capital is not to be believed.”

The sound of all this information was so delicious to Alice that she had to swallow down a whole mouthful of spit that had been collecting ever since the Countess had begun to come around. This was the point where she blew it.

“A criminal mastermind, just think of that!” she said excitedly. “Now you’re cookin’ with the kettle on the front boiner! It’s pesos to peanuts the poipetrator’s name is—”

But the Countess surprised her by taking up a shoe from the floor and banging it on the bedside table.

Nyet!” she said fiercely. “Between you and myself, I do not trust even you.”

Her eyes darted nervously all around the room. “You rrealize that the identity of the willain is an item I have put up for sale. In due courrse, I shall turn over blueprints of all his designs, mechanical and conspiratorial. If the price is right.”

“You got speedy access to those blueprints, I suppose?”

“In a safe place wery, wery far from here, darling.”

It was definitely time to wrap things up. Agent Nine got up to leave. On the way out, she noticed that the Countess’s window had icicles hanging on it, even though outside, it was springtime.

Maybe it had been that minky smell in the room getting to her. Alice took heart once she was out in the hallway. There was one last question that deserved to be tried.

“If I may make so bold, Countess. Just where did you apprehend this Pyramid Scheme?”

“I ran across it while getting in a little ski-ing,” came the answer from inside the room, “on wacation in the city of Harbin.”

Harbin. “As I suspected,” Alice claimed. “Thank you, Countess.”

“Nice talking,” said Countess Lubyanka.

All the rest of the day, Alice felt both blessed and doomed. She had the impression that she had never lived through a day when hopes raised so high were followed so rapidly by frustrations.

It was the best of times: Harbin was in China. Alice had gone straight from the Countess’s room to look for Harbin in the library of the Villa Febrile. She had pushed her way through a revolving door downstairs and entered a fine, old-fashioned room. It was dark inside but spacious; airy and dusty at the same time.

The room was full of books, as libraries are. But actually, this particular room was particularly full. There was not a space on the walls that was not covered in books. Books in all the languages were stacked two stories high, up to the mezzanine and beyond; loose pamphlets were jammed in lofty corners that could only be reached from the end of giant ladders that ran on casters along the tops of the shelves and grazed the stacks like brontosauruses.

Alice felt that there was something odd about the sheer density of all that text as soon as she walked inside, but she couldn’t place the thought. In fact, as she cast an eye around the shelves, she felt altogether lost herself for a minute. She wondered if she needed a map of the room just to find the maps in the room.

In the middle of the floor was a circular desk, and in the middle of this desk sat a person who was unmistakably a librarian. A pencil was stuck through the bun she wore on top of her head. She had a starched bow tucked under her chin, and her glasses hung down on a chain. Up to this person Alice stepped with her question about the maps.

It was the Adventuress.

“Say! Aren’t you the—”


Alice couldn’t figure out if the Adventuress was impersonating a librarian and didn’t want to be found out, or if the librarian at the Villa had been impersonating an Adventuress and didn’t want to be found out, or if the librarian was just doing her job.

Very quietly now, Alice explained what she wanted. The Adventuress wrote out a call number on a slip. The number led her to a shelf full of atlases. Brushing aside some strands of ivy that had been growing on them, she quickly reached her destination.

fig. 39a, it said at the top of the map, Extreme Orient. The spread began in the west, Alice noted with interest, with the inner edge of Outer Mongolia. Harbin was there all right, a dot in the middle of the page; and on the eastern margin of the spread was a column of fine print that included a note about the status of her special city.

According to this, Harbin was somehow run by China, Russia, and Japan all at once. Apparently, it was one of those in-between places like the Panama Canal Zone or Staten Island. This seemed complicated, but study of the page satisfied Alice that the town was located more or less where she wanted it.

So Fang it was, then. Now to confirm the news with Mr. Vinup. Returning the book to its place, she scanned the walls for the exit and realized what it was that had been bothering her about the room all along. There was no exit.

Alice couldn’t even remember which direction she had come from. At reading tables here and there, serious Free-Lancers kept both eyes on their homework. The place was all business. Nobody paid any attention to her. It was like being a baby again, or an old hobo who had wandered in off the street by mistake. For the love of Mike, which way was the door?

“Sister,” she confessed to the librarian, “I have got to get out of—”


Very quietly now, Alice explained what she wanted. The Adventuress wrote out a call number on a slip. The number led her to a shelf full of tetralogies. Brushing aside the Golden Anthology of Tautology,* she quickly reached her destination.

The number belonged to a book about teratology. This actually looked pretty interesting. Alice tried to pull it out of the bookcase but it stuck to the bottom. Then there was a rumbling noise. Before she knew it, the entire bookcase had pivoted around on a central axis and swept her along with it. When her head stopped spinning, she was looking at the revolving door back in the hallway where she had started.

It was the best of times, it was the woist of times: Mr. Vinup was being impossible. It was not that he was nowhere to be found. It was worse than that. He was seemingly everywhere to be found—lounging in the lounges, trysting at the tea pavilion, admiring the view of the lake from the second-floor balcony. But whatever the setting, he was to be seen strictly in the company of that supple-jointed vamp, her jagged hands folded in front of her thorax like the hooks of a praying mantis. At none of these places did her partner reply to Alice’s increasingly energetic pantomimes with anything more informative than a wink. It could have meant anything.

On one especially horrible occasion, Alice stumbled across the two of them cozying up to each other on a park bench. She ducked behind a shrubbery and, with wrinkled nose, peered at them through the branches. Poppyseed Passion was stroking the soft underside of Mr. Vinup’s big jaw with the pointy tip of one finger.

“My sentimental Occidental,” Poppyseed was purring, “my Egg Young Fool.”

It would be easy for her, Alice imagined, with nails like that, to rip right up through and scratch the roof of his mouth. “Five minutes alone with him, that’s all I ask,” she told herself, “just five lousy minutes. And what could I not do with five minutes alone with her,” she reflected, doubling up her fists and peppering the underbrush.

“Ow!” said the underbrush. “Right where it hurts. Young lady, I’ll thank you to keep your hands to yourself.”

“Oh, sorry, sister. Fancy bumping into you here.”

“That’s a fine thing to call it,” the shrub said in an injured tone. “And just where did you expect to find me, all got up like this? As a matter of fact, I’ve been planted here all night.”

On the ground under her tendrils, neat rows of cards were laid out, the latest of more than a few games of solitaire.

“You’ve been here ever since I saw you in the terlet?”

“Don’t mention toilets.”

“How did you make do?” whispered Alice incredulously.

“The other bushes.”

The familiar color of corned beef was showing right through the burnt cork: the Plant was blushing. Alice remembered her manners.

“Sorry I asked. Listen, sister, you plan on being here much longer?”

“I’ve been here these twelve hours and the fellow I’m waiting for still hasn’t come. But I expect I’ll give it until dinner tonight.… I don’t suppose you play canasta?” she added hopefully.

“Wistful thinking,” said Alice. “Speaking for myself, I plan to make myself scarce. I just thought that, so long as I am not imposing, I might ask you to give my boss a message.”

“That buckaroo on the bench with his lady friend? That jackanapes is your employer?”

“Perzactly,” said Alice sadly.

“Well, dear, I can’t very well speak out without calling attention to myself. But if you write him a note on a loose leaf, I can slip it to him if he passes this way.”

Clearly, her friend was hedging. Alice wrote:

i am anxious to talk to you

                                                                     before the auction tonite.


                                                                                  yours truly,

                                                                                                agent 9

“Don’t let him go without taking his leaves,” she said, and stalked off.

Alice felt completely drained after her encounter with the Plant. She went up to her room and slept in her clothes through the rest of the afternoon, rang for coffee at six and cleaned her teeth with the courtesy toothbrush. She laid out all of her stuff on the bed—it was meager enough—and applied her fine-toothed comb.

If she was going to strike out alone, defeat Doctor Fang and his filly minion, singlehandedly retrieve the secret weapon and return to London—or even if she was just going to go back to London and ask the Inspector for a ticket home—these were the things with which she was going to have to make do:

Her kit from Scotland Yard was intact, less one shot of Delirium. Somewhere in that poky metal box, she recalled, resided the power of mass destruction.

She had a dollar-fifty cardboard suitcase from Woolworth’s, picked up the day they left New York. A porter had adorned it that same day with a sticker: S. S. Transylvania. French customs had customized it further at Calais.

Packed inside were the old overcoat and a change of underwear. Her sharp hat was on her head and her rubber-soled boots were on her feet. On her back was the shabby number from the Williamsburg rags-and-bones-man. And then there was her passport. That was about it.

To Alice’s mind, there were two things whose absence was going to cause a lot of inconvenience. The first thing was money. On this score, nothing much had changed since she left Brooklyn: Mr. Vinup had sole access to the wad Pundit had given them, and Alice was still a hundred percent broke.

The second thing that there was none of—and this was a more pressing concern, given that there was a jamboree to attend in an hour—was a good dress. She couldn’t very well go to the ball in her day clothes; everybody else was sure to be dressed to the nines.

On the other hand, here was a crisp tuxedo draped over the vanity, and seeing as the China doll man had made off with her party dress, she was prepared to regard it as a fair trade. Alice picked up the jacket by the shoulders and shook it out straight. The cloth felt thick and smooth on her fingertips, and it still smelled a little like mothballs.…

Even at the fanciest dance halls she had been to back home, the only people wearing dinner jackets had been members of the band. These days, she was moving in more elevated circles. Dining out with the Free-Lancers was like being in the pictures—everything was black and white. It was funny that the work should be so gray.

Alice prepared for her evening. She took her skeleton keys from her coat pocket and put them in her new jacket. After some thought, she added her smelling salts, just in case. She shellacked her head and carefully combed her spit curl, and when the time came to take on the tuxedo, Agent Nine was well satisfied with the result.

Now, Alice came down the grand stairway at the Villa Febrile looking like the business, and straightaway she started to get acquainted. By ones and twos, the other Free-Lancers were making their entrances; and over the course of an hour the stairway in back, the colonnade in front, the ballroom to the side, and the shady corners all around became filled up with conventioneers. The spies of the world had assembled for an evening of each other’s business and pleasure.

The Flying Cubanos were there, “Johnny” Buenaventura was there. The Queen of Krakatoa and the Genius of Vilnius were there. The Makioka Sisters were there, and so were the Karamazov Brothers.

“Xenophon Xenophontos, Alexandria. At your service.”

“Ali Hockaloogey, Baghdad Police.”

“Manuela Palma, ¡Madrid!”

Loafing at the staircase with her hands in her pockets, shoulders nonchalantly at rest on the banister, Agent Nine thought she would intercept the whole parade. She swapped compliments with her colleagues and kept watch on the horizon of heads. She was keeping a dutiful eye out for Mr. Vinup.

She watched the Countess swoosh by in a snow leopard fur. The Countess nodded at Alice—“Darling, you look fantaski”—and moved on, the bushy tail of the leopard stirring up dust as it bounced gently along the floor behind her.

She watched Horst von Scharnhorst, wearing the still-handsome uniform of a recently defeated army, come trotting up to Lupe Velescu. “How well you lurk, Fräulein. I hear the vamp look is all the rage in Hollywood these days.”

“We’ve known about it for years in Romania,” smiled the toothsome Miss Velescu. Horst clicked his heels politely, locking his spurs together.

Alice’s angle was excellent. The jagged profile of her boss had not yet come into view; but there was not an entrance she could miss from where she was standing.

Unless someone were to come in from the service door behind her.

“Hi, shorty.”

“Mr. Dandy,” Alice said, feeling hopelessly compromised. “Say—you sure look sharp, Mr. Dandy.”

Her eyes took in the voice’s source, the famous Jimmy Dandy who was actually standing right behind her. All the fellows in the band were passing by with their instruments, but their leader had stopped just to have a word or two with Alice. Now he was jawboning away like some old pal of hers, but he still looked as though he had stepped out of some dream or advertisement.

“I reckon you’ve got to look sharp,” he was saying, “in my line, same as yours. Shucks, I dare say it’s just part of the job description. And my name is Jimmy, Miss. May I ask you what’s yours?”

“They call me Alice,” stammered Agent Nine.

Those were the days when jazz music was in its roaring youth, when black musicians in the States were taking a Southern sound up North and boiling up a stew that spilled across the Atlantic. Jimmy’s original famous rhythm was as hot as Louisiana pepper sauce, but he had picked up slick new methods in New York. There, he had worked on the formula that was to give him success with young and old, black and white, and everybody in between. He came up with a band that blew hot, cool and schmaltz at the same time. He followed this formula in his clothes and manners, too.

He was all cool cat on top. Jimmy’s haircut faded smoothly down around big musician’s ears; his oval face was given mystery by a pair of dark glasses. On his shoulders was the self-assured head of a Buddha. His shirt was white and his tie was narrow, his blazer was strictly navy blue; above the waist—everything quiet and correct.

He had red-hot dogs down below. He wore a pair of hand-built particolored spectator shoes that were about as raunchy as a burlesque show brass section. They required shoe polish in five different colors, not including varnish for the wooden soles. They were indeed terrific. In fact, nothing less would have done, because the shoes were almost drowned by a champion pair of baggy pants that measured thirty inches at the knee with three-inch cuffs and were made from an ocean of corduroy fabric on which an artist friend had painted yellow donkeys, red cabooses, and other means of transportation.

And under the glasses—as Alice already knew from magazine pictures—was a lonesome puppy. Now Jimmy removed the shades and revealed the real thing, the sappy and shameless eyes of a crooner. The part that belonged with the famous voice were the eyes, realized Alice: they were sweet corn to go with melted butter.

“I dare say, one meets the most intriguing people here,” said Jimmy, winking on the word “intriguing.” In that moment, locating Mr. Vinup became optional. “Well, Alice, tonight we’ll see some exercise. I’ll soften them up with some waltzes and things, and maybe a polka for the tuba player’s sake. But then I promise you we’ll mix it up, see if we don’t. I’ll catch you down in the ballroom, sugar.”

When he left, he left her all alone.

Meanwhile, Horst von Scharnhorst had been finding himself unable to take a step forwards or backwards. Bending over to untangle his spurs would have been difficult for Scharnhorst, a stout man in a corset. He stood still instead.

Half an hour later, he was discovered at the same spot by Monsieur de Menthe, who expressed surprise at the reunion.

“Major! I thought you had retired.”

“Consulting, Herr Inspektor,” said Horst von Scharnhorst.

The man of logic stepped back to look him over from a distance. “Weren’t your activities specifically forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles?”

Verboten, schmerboten,” laughed the Major. “If you’ll pardon the ex-Prussian. Now, how about helping me out with these boots?”




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