Read Assignment Madeleine Online
Authors: Edward S. Aarons
A cold, August rain fell over Paris on the morning Durell
arrived. He had flown from Washington to London, changing to an Air
France plane at the London airport. He didn’t think anyone had spotted him.
McFee had arranged for a man to move promptly into Durell’s apartment near Rock
Creek Park in ‘Washington, and the man looked enough like Durell to fool anyone
who might he keeping him under surveillance back home. He was not sure about
this, so he was careful as always. It was growing more difficult to develop and
maintain a cover identity with each succeeding trip abroad.
From the airport in Orly he took a
taxi into Paris and checked in at the King George V Hotel, where a reservation
had been made for him by Fred Hanson, out of the Embassy on the Place de la
Concorde. The cold rain was quite a change after the humidity of Washington,
but Durell did not mind it. Being in Paris, and having a chance to see Deirdre,
was enough for the moment.
He telephoned her at once, before he shaved and bathed.
She’d had no idea he was coming to Paris.
“Sam, darling, are you really here? You’re not joking?”
“Here, in the flesh,” he assured her. “Yearning, of
He listened to the soft throatiness of her laughter and reacted
warmly to her delight. “No more than I, darling. Where are you?”
“Where I usually stay,” he said.
“But I’m not sure—”
“I don't know about your telephone, Dee. Do you understand?”
Her voice fell. “Oh, Sam. You didn't come over to see me.
For a crazy minute, I thought you’d taken some time off just to fly back
with me. Can you do that?”
“No, I’m working. I’m sorry.”
“Will it be for long?”
“I think so. Please, Dee. Not on the phone.”
“But nobody is watching me! I’m just covering the fashion
news, that’s all! Who'd he interested in me, Sam?”
“You’re my girl,” he said. “That might be enough to do it.”
Some of the joy went out of her voice. He heard her sigh,
and he listened to the faint humming in the receiver at his ear. He was
watchful for any telltale clicks that might indicate her line was bugged. He
told himself he was probably being overly cautious, but there was no harm in
that. Better to be too cautious than too dead. In Durell’s business, the price
of survival was constant suspicion and care, awake or asleep.
“Yes, Sam. I’m so disappointed. I’m flying back to
Washington tonight, didn’t you know? I’ve been dreaming about you and me back
home—making the most marvelous plans. But now you’re here, and you’ll be
sleeping here in Paris, and I’ll be over the Atlantic, with my dreams as empty
as the sky and the sea. Sam, I can’t stand it."
“I’m sorry,” he said again. “You know how it is.”
“Can I come to your room? Right now?”
“It isn’t that I wouldn’t want you. You know that, Dee.
But make it Jacques’ place. Know where it is?”
“Near the Salon Sofie.”
“If you say so. At one?”
“One,” he said.
“I love you,” Durell said, and he hung up.
He bathed and shaved in the big, tessellated bathroom and
changed into a dark blue suit, a. white shirt with a soft button-down collar,
and a solid maroon necktie. Durell was tall and long-legged, well-muscled, in
his thirties. He had thick dark hair, a small black moustache, and blue eyes
that often turned dark when he was thoughtful or angry. He had deft, gambler’s
hands and the quick temperament of his Cajun parents combined with the
instincts of a gambler, instilled in him by his grandfather, who had worked the
last of the old Mississippi side-wheelers.
He had started in the business with G-2 and later transferred
to the old OSS training at Pemberley in England with the Jed teams during World
War II. Afterward, he had known there could never be any other work for him,
and he had been accepted by the Central Intelligence Agency of the State
Department when it was first formed. Now he was sub-chief of K Section,
under General Dickinson McFee. It was lonely, dangerous, mean and dirty work,
and the risks went unheralded by bugles. Death walked with the man who yielded
to a moments carelessness, or who was unlucky, and death came in mean, small
ways—in a Hung Kong alley, a train in Poland, a traffic accident on Fifth
Avenue in Manhattan. It came with a knife, a garrote, or a push under crushing.
spinning wheels. Durell knew that with the MVD at No. 2 Dzerzhinsky Square in
Moscow there was a full dossier on him. He did not underestimate the enemy. He
had already anticipated their knowledge of his presence here in Paris.
He lit a cigarette and looked down from the hotel window at
the rain falling on the Avenue George V. Deirdre moved in him like a deep pang
of loneliness. He watched a man and woman and two children hurrying along in
the rain toward the hotel entrance, all laughter and love, and he knew he could
never be a part of such a picture. Not for him the ordinary, everyday wonders
of simple existence. In his business, the man who walked alone walked in
safety. He had told Deirdre this often, but she had not yet accepted it.
He hadn't been in Paris since he had helped Orrie Boston get
set up. Orrie was in Algeria now, moving in perilous waters to gather
information on the Nationalist rebellion. His data would be sifted and collated
and synthesized back in K Section, in Washington, and arranged for McFee’s
weekly conferences with Joint Chiefs, the Pentagon, State, and White House for
Orrin Boston had been father and mother to Durell during his
training at the Maryland farm where Orrin was one of the chief instructors for
the candidates aspiring to work for the CIA. Those hadn't been easy weeks,
Durell recalled. You were tested for leadership and ingenuity in dozens of
grueling ways. There were no rules of fair play at The Farm. Every dirty trick
in the book was sprung on you. You trusted no one—not your fellow candidates,
who would cajole you into friendship, nor the instructors, who could use a
paternal attitude to suddenly trip you up and slide a knife across your throat.
Durell enjoyed those weeks. Orrin Boston had been the oldest man at The Farm,
pushing fifty, but he went through the obstacle courses with the toughest
of them. A calm man with a lined face, carefully groomed gray hair, large and
sensitive eyes, Orrin had a wife and three children in Chevy Chase, and he
looked the suburban part. You would never suspect he was a spy and a skilled
killer, a master of seven languages, with an intimate knowledge of the alleys
and byways of dozens of the world’s major cities.
Durell was in Paris now because of Orrie Boston. McFee had
explained it simply.
“You know Orrie better than any of us, Sam. He belongs
behind a desk in analytical work, but you know how short-handed we are and our
troubles with the budget made us send him to Africa. He gets on very well with
Paris Intelligence and the
we have men in Algeria and they don’t mind, as long as our services cooperate
with their intelligence people. Orrie lived in Algiers as an export house
manager, before the war, and he was one of our experts dining the North African
campaign. You knew him then, didn’t you.
Durell nodded. “We watched the 9th Infantry hit the beach at
. We were in a villa overlooking the shore.
The place had been vacated by some members of the German Armistice Commission,
and they left a lot of champagne, and Orrie and I were mighty thirsty after two
months in the desert. We tied on a good one that night.”
McFee permitted himself a brief smile. “Orrie speaks some of
the Berber Kabyle dialects like a native. The Moslems trust him and the French
trust him, so we had to use him over there. We’ve had some informative reports
from Orrie, especially of those dealing with schisms among the Nationalist
guerrillas. It’s been useful in formulating State policy, though I sometimes
wish they’d listen a little more to what Boston has had to say. But Orrie
hasn't said much lately.”
“Is he in trouble?” Durell asked.
“We don’t know. We haven’t heard from him.”
Durell’s face went blank. “F or how long?
“Two weeks." ”
“How much is he overdue? “
“Ten days,” McFee sighed. Georges Brumont suggests we send
someone to look for him. Brumont is our liaison with the
Bureau. His own people have failed to get at the root of the trouble—I don’t
have any details—but there will be more for you in Pans when you get there. I
don’t like sending you abroad so soon, though, Sam. Our jokers will be on the
lookout for you. I’d hate to lose you.”
“I’ll manage. When do you want me to go over?”
“As soon as you can pack. You know how I feel about Orrie.
And I know how close you’ve been to him. If he’s in trouble, help him out of
it. If he’s disappeared, find out where and why, and bring him back. If
dead. . . . McFee shuffled papers on his desk.
He looked tired, a small man with the tremendous weight of life and death on
his military shoulders. “You’ll contact Brumont. Hell fill you in. Be careful—and
tactful. You know how touchy the French are about Algeria.”
Remembering McFee’s words, Durell turned away from the rainy
window of his Paris hotel room. He wished he could get rid of his nagging worry
about Orrin Boston, but it wasn’t easy. Your friends in the business were men
you respected and admired. Clever, capable, brilliant men. But now and then
somebody slipped, made a small error—and it was enough. The enemy was equally
brilliant, deadly, and competent. And you lost. a friend.
He hoped it wouldn’t be that way with Orrie Boston.
The telephone rang in his room. He had been expecting
Georges Brumont to call momentarily. He said, “Yes?” and Brumont’s voice, in
French, said, “We are happy you made a safe and swift voyage,
. We are anxious to confer on the business at hand.
You were told in London of our meeting place?”
“Yes, I was,” Durell said.
“Can you be there in half an hour?”
. I shall be
Durell hung up and shrugged into his raincoat. Then he went
back to the window again, but he saw nothing of importance on the wide avenue
in front of the hotel. He went out, locking the door automatically, but not
concerned, because nothing in his luggage would be of interest to anyone who
cared to look into it.
The Salon Sofie was on the Left Bank beyond the Pont-
. A series of terraces overlooked the Seine and the
bridges and parks, but in today’s rain the chairs and tables were empty, and
the manikins were working indoors. Durell paid oil his taxi two blocks from the
salon and walked along the river bank before climbing the stone steps to the
street. Gray ribbons of rain wavered across the dimpled surface of the water.
The trees wept in gray melancholia, and he could not see the Eiffel Tower
because of the fog. Nobody followed him.
He looked at his watch as he passed Jacques’ café, but he
was an hour early to meet Deirdre, and the people under the striped awning,
seated in the wrought-iron chairs at the round iron tables, all looked
went on and pushed open the ornate glass and gold doors of
the Salon Sofie.
A woman with green hair dusted with silver greeted him,
smiling politely, and ushered him through a carpeted, mirrored foyer into the main
room. Two men, obviously American tourists, sat on a banquette in the foyer;
they looked alternately worried about their wives’ extravagances and then, when
a model swayed by, forgot their worries while the girl was in view. Durell
followed the woman with the green hair into the main salon. Neither American
was interested in him.
“I am Madame Sofie,” the woman said. “You are
expected. Over there, please.”
Durell saw Georges Brumont and Fred Hanson, from the
Embassy, seated in gilt Louis XIV chairs in front of a tall mirror. One end of
the room was curtained off as a stage, with a low ramp reaching down to a wide
circle of oyster white carpeting. The manikins moved in stilted, stylized
postures, displaying clothing and figures to half-a-dozen whispering women.
Durell paused to watch a willowy blonde with unprecedented breasts posture in a
negligee. The blonde looked at him and smiled.
“Madeleine will be out shortly,” Madame Sofie
“She has been upset, naturally,
but your friends have been very patient.”
“Mademoiselle Sardelle. Tell the gentlemen that I will try
again to hurry her along. The enamel moved in a smile again. “You will excuse
“With reluctance,” Durell said.
She looked surprised at his gallantry and her smile widened;
then she moved oil, the silver dust glistening in her green hair. Durell
crossed die deep carpeting to join Brumont and Hanson.
Fred Hanson’s handshake was strong and firm. He was a career
man in the Foreign Service, with pale half
groomed in a brush cut that gave him an American collegiate
stamp. His family was upper Westchester, his clothing was Brooks Brothers, and
his Phi Beta Kappa key came from Yale.
“Hi, Sam, right on the dot. You know Georges?”
“We met last year,” Durell said, shaking hands with Brumont.
“Quite a spot for a rendezvous, eh?” Hansen said. “Soft
music, gorgeous girls, perfumed air—“
“Please be seated, M. Durell,” Brumont said bluntly.
“You know that we have bad news for you?’
“No, I didn’t know.”
“You were not advised in London?”
“I saw no one of importance in London. Is this place safe?”
“Madame Sofie works for us on occasion. An unusual
woman, because she keeps a closed mouth. That is one reason we meet here. There
is) also the manikin, Mlle. Sardelle. You will see her soon.’