The Midnight Visitor
Ausable did not fit the description of any secret agent. Fowler had ever read about. Following him down the corridor of the old French hotel where Ausable had a room, Fowler felt disappointed. It was a small room, on the sixth and top floor and hardly a setting for a romantic figure.
Ausable was, for one thing, fat. Very fat. Very fat. And then there was his accent. Though he spoke French and German fairly well, he had never altogether lost the New England accent he had brought to Pairs from Boston twenty years ago.
“You are disappointed,” Ausable said over his shoulder. “You were told that I was a secret agent, a spy. You wished to meet me because you are a writer, young and romantic. You expected mysterious figures in the right, the crack of pistols, drugs in the wine.”
“Instead, you have spent a whole evening in a French music hall with a dirtylooking fat man who, instead of having messages slipped into his hand by dark -- eyed beauties, gets only an ordinary telephone call making an appointment in his room. You have been bored!” The fat man laughted quietly as he unlocked the door of his room and stood aside to let his guest enter.
“But take cheer, my young friend,” Ausable told him.
“Soon you will see a paper, a quite important paper for which several men and women have risked their lives, come to me in the nexttolast step of its journey into
official hands. Some day that paper may well affect the course of history. In that thought is drama, is there not?” As he spoke, Ausable closed the door behind him. Then he turned on the light.
And as the light came on, Fowler had his first shock of the day. For halfway across the room, a small pistol in his hand, stood a man. Ausable blinked a few times.
“Max,” he said, “you gave me quite a start. I thought you were in Berlin. What are you doing in my room?”
Max was thin, not tall, and with a face that suggested the look of a fox. Except for the gun, he did not look very dangerous.
“The report,” he said in a quiet voice. “The report that is being brought to you tonight about some new missiles. I thought I would take it from you. It will be safer in my hands than in yours.”
Ausable moved to an armchair and sat down heavily. “I'm going to raise the devil with the management this time; I am angry,” he said firmly. “This is the second time in a month that somebody has gotten into my room from that balcony!” Fowler's eyes went to the single window of the room. It was an ordinary window, with the black night outside.
“Balcony?” Max asked. “No, I had a passkey. I did not know about the balcony. It could have saved me some trouble had I known about it.”
“It's not my balcony,” explained Ausable angrily. “It belongs to the next apartment. You see, this room used to be part of a large unit, and the next room had the balcony, which extends under my window now. You can get onto it from the empty room next door, and somebody did, last month. The management promised to block it off. But they haven't.”
Fowler was standing stiffly near Ausable. “Please sit down,” said Max to Fowler, waving his gun with a commanding gesture. “We have a wait of about half an hour.”
“I wish I knew how you Germans learned about the report, Max,” said Ausable.
The little spy smiled. “And we wish we knew how people got the report. But, no harm has been done. I will get it back tonight. What is that? Who is at the door?”
Fowler jumped at the sudden knocking at the door.
usable just smiled. “That will be the police,” he said, “I thought that such an
important paper as the one we were waiting for should have a little extra protection. I told them to check on me to make sure everything was all right.”
Max bit his lip.The knocking was repeated.
“What will you do now, Max?” Ausable asked. “If I do not answer the door, they will enter anyway. The door is unlocked. And they will not hesitate to shoot.”
Max's face was black with anger as he backed swiftly toward the window; with his hand behind him, he opened the window and put his leg out into the night. “I will wait on
the balcony. Send them away or I'll shoot and take my chances!”
The knocking at the door became louder and a voice was raised. “Mr. Ausable! Mr. Ausable!”
Keeping his body twisted so that his gun still covered the fat man and his guest, the man at the window seized the frame with his free hand to support himself as he rested his weight on one thigh. Then he swung his other leg up and over the window sill.
The doorknob turned. Swiftly Max pushed with his left hand to free himself, and dropped to the balcony. And then as he dropped, he screamed once shrilly.
The door opened and a waiter stood there with a tray, a bottle and two glasses. “Here is the drink you ordered, sir.” He set the tray on the table and left the room.
White faced and shaking, Fowler stared after him. “But... but... what about... the police?” he stammered.
“There never were any police,” Ausable said. “Only Henry, whom I was expecting.”
“But what about the man on the balcony...?” Fowler began.