9th of December, 1938
Klaus slowly lowered the receptor, visibly dismayed as he gave Reythier a smirk in the corner of his mouth.
“I phoned to Paris, told them what happened. They couldn’t give me much help but they told me to look out for anything suspicious.”
Reythier shrugged. He heard that before. Two hours before they were close to solving the problem of the Nazi spies, now they were both injured, almost murdered by a lone gunman and with no leads to follow. A whole team of local policemen and two experts joined in from Strasbourg to examine the crime scene but it would take a bit more time before they could tell them more information than they knew already. Worst of all, they were easily spotted.
Reythier stood on a chair in the room adjacent to the interrogation room they used before, standing at the desk of the local constable. Klaus stood by the edge of the whisky coloured table, phone receptor still in hand, looking at Reythier as if to ask what to do or where to phone next. Reythier motioned with his hand and Klaus dropped the receptor back in its place. He watched as Klaus took a beige wooden chair and drew up near him.
“So, what now, Alexandre?”
Reythier raised his eyebrows, twisting his hand to his colleague. “You tell me Klaus. You came here and brought me in this mess in a small town by the edge of a perilous border. Why did you come here in the first place? Just for the interrogation?”
Klaus shook his head. “No. And yes.”
“No and yes? That makes no sense.” Klaus hesitated. “Or maybe it does.” Reythier straightened his posture, suddenly curious. “There’s more to this. You were expecting something from those Nazi boys.”
Klaus nodded. “I did. Let me call the constable.”
Klaus stood up and returned a couple of minutes later with the local constable of Colmar, the chief of the police of this little snowy town, visibly shaken and greeting rather meekly Reythier whom he met a couple of hours earlier. Sporting a sleek moustache, the man’s greying hairs were overtaking his little remaining hair, somehow accentuating the deep wrinkles on his forehead. Border constables are not exactly having an easy time, Reythier thought. The constable was dressed in the typical dark uniform but he kept his pistol unholstered this time, visible and always at hand in case any more gunmen would have a swift swipe at Reythier and Klaus. The police officer took a wooden chair from the corner of the room and placed himself on the other side of the table, facing Reythier directly.
“Bonsoir again, Monsieur Reythier. I believe you wanted to speak to me.”
Reythier switched his position and smiled to the constable. “Oui, c’est vrai, monsieur Pernod. I asked to speak to you and I will be short about it. Have you experienced this before?”
Constable Pernod shook his head. “No, clearly not like this. But I have heard many stories and read more than a dozen reports about random people asking about our troops, our defences, our police even. Someone even asked whether the mayor of Colmar has a gun in his house.”
Reythier gave Klaus a quick look, underneath his eyebrows. “When did this happen, Monsieur Pernod?”
Constable Pernod dabbed for a few moments. “First report arrived on my table about four months ago. Ever since they have been increasing weekly, but nothing serious has ever happened until this very incident.”
“Four months. Did you know about those two young men?”
Pernod nodded. “I did. Two months ago one of my policemen came to inform me about them two posing as tourists, asking around about the Maginot line and other military objectives. One of the local farmers became suspicious and related that to one of my men.”
“Who then reported to you.”
“Correct. We counter-spied them, watched their movements, but nothing ever happened.”
“Until they stabbed those two farmers.”
“We knew it was them immediately. It happened just outside a deserted guard post. So I gathered my men and we arrested them quite quickly.”
“And brought them to us,” added Klaus, to which Pernod nodded.
Reythier nodded, but nodded out of reflex more than anything. The constable knew nothing more, and that was evident. They were no closer than they were a couple of hours ago. Reythier looked at Pernod.
“Constable, have you had any trouble with your men lately?”
“Yes, I have, but minor incidents. Why would you ask, Monsieur Reythier?”
Reythier did not immediately answer. He glanced around the room, scanning every inch of the desks, until he noticed a sheaf of blank papers in the corner just beside him. Sliding a piece of paper to the constable, he took out a fountain pen and wrote in the very corner of the paper: Do you suspect any of your men?
Much to Reythier’s dismay, Pernod nodded.
The constable coughed. He coughed again, and again, and then stopped, pointing with his fingers towards the sheaf of papers. Three times. Three men he suspected, three men of aiding these foreign spies who were liquidated by a member of their own and nearly killed Reythier and Klaus as well. Reyhier looked at his undercover companion who motioned quickly with his fingers, signaling that Pernod should leave. The constable understood the motion, bowed slightly and stood up.
“Monsieur Reythier, I will send you more information once I have it.”
“Merci, Monsieur. Let us know as quick as you can.”
The man nodded in agreement, shook their hands and left the room to return to his policemen, leaving Klaus and Reythier alone in the room with their thoughts, suspicions and an awkward silence. Reythier leaned back on his chair and tapped the edge of the desk, lost in thought, using the fountain pen in a rhythmic movement that somehow did not annoy neither of them. He switched his gaze from the white gold nib to Klaus, whose rugged features and a slight six o’clock shadow were amplified by the lost look he wore for the past hours. Out of them, it was Klaus who was the shocked one, but Reythier had his moments when he needed his friend to slap him back into the real world. The Frenchman rose from his chair.
“I’m lost. What now?” asked Reythier.
Klaus kept rubbing his forehead. “Pernod was fidgeting too much.”
Klaus looked up at Reythier and nodded. “Yes. He was fidgeting quite a lot, he seemed nervous, his right foot was always jumping up and down. You could not see it, it was hidden by the desk, but I kept my eyes on his movements. For a police constable he was far too nervous.”
“You think he is hiding something?”
“I think there’s more to it than the three suspicious policemen under his watch. And three…” Klaus stood up and held up 3 fingers. “Three policemen is three too many for this little place. How many does he have in the first place? 3 policemen out of 12, that’s a quarter of his force. If 3 policemen are aiding these guys, then we should be lucky we escaped alive.”
“Keep in mind two of them have been killed.”
Klaus shook his head. “Those were our men. Counter-intelligence. I told them to disguise as local Colmar policemen.”
Reythier pointed to the door. “Did Pernod know about it?”
Klaus shook his head. “No. I kept him in the dark. I only asked for the room and for his silence on the matter.”
Reythier said nothing more. A number of moments later, a young policeman, no more than twenty years of age, pale skinned and rather shy in approaching them, knocked on the opened door. He bowed curtly, removed his cap and handed Klaus a crumpled note.
“Monsieur Pernod sends his regards.”
“Our salute to him. Thank you!” replied Reythier.
The policeman bowed again and left, leaving the two men alone. Klaus looked at Reythier, then back at the crumpled note. Reythier watched as his companion opened the note, revealing a small scribble in black ink.
“Follow the Night Train. What night train, what’s this all about?”
Reythier took the paper from Klaus’s hand. “Train, train, are there any trains coming back to Colmar this evening?”
“I have no clue. Let me check on that.”
Klaus phoned the train station and waited for a couple of minutes until a groggy foreman answered him. He slammed the phone receptor thirty seconds later.
“There’s two more trains coming to Colmar. The next one is in 15 minutes and it’s a regional train, stopping in Metz. The second one is coming back from Lyon, the red striped train I came with.”
“When is it coming?”
“In 35 minutes.”
“Arm your pistol, get two more cartridges with you and let’s go. We’ll wait at the station.”