FICTION

CLOAK AND DAGGER MARRIAGE

BARRY PEROWNE August 15 1949
FICTION

CLOAK AND DAGGER MARRIAGE

BARRY PEROWNE August 15 1949

CLOAK AND DAGGER MARRIAGE

FICTION

BARRY PEROWNE

THE boat express from Cherbourg was sliding into Paris, and in a corner seat of a first-class compartment a slender, dark, attractive girl was gazing from the window. In the opposite corner seat a long, loose-limbed man of thirty, with blond hair, grey eyes and a brown, rather impassive face, was gazing at the girl.

The girl turned from the window. “Nearly there, Hal.”

“Nearly there, Jenny,” said Hal, and pushed back his sleeve to glance at his watch. “Running on time, too.”

She smiled and turned again to the window, as though she couldn’t bear to miss a single nuance of the summer sunset now hazing Paris in rose and lavender.

A Canadian, she had been educated in France; there was about her a Parisian chic, and she was bilingual.

Hal knew that the last time a train had brought her into Paris she had been with a career secretservice man called Perry Ide. They had been parachuted a hundred miles away in unfrequented country. Ide’s task had been to co-ordinate a Paris intelligence network, Jenny’s to handle his courier and cipher traffic. Since they had had to work closely together they had used a man-and-wife cover story, operating for sixteen dangerous months as “M. and Mme. Raoul Prémont.”

To Hal Kegan Jenny’s wartime mission seemed the sheerest melodrama. His own military service had been pretty humdrum, and the bank in which he now worked seemed pretty humdrum, too. Except for the tennis tournaments in which he played the only exciting thing that ever had happened to him was Jenny Wetherell. He had met her first when, at about the time of his own return to the bank, she had joined the staff of the foreign-correspondence section. Just once she had spoken to him about her war experience, and that was when he had asked her to marry him. She had given him, then, a brief idea of her sixteen secret months in Paris.

Of Perry Ide she had said only, “It was a coverstory ‘marriage,’ Hal—nothing more.”

Because he was intensely proud of her Hal secretly had collected clippings of every newspaper story that ever had appeared about her. There had been quite a number, for she had been awarded some impressive decorations. The fact of it was she was a heroine. Of Perry Ide there was never a word in such stories. Secret service was his career; he was still at it and security shrouded him.

Jenny and Hal had been married now for two years, and all this past year Hal had been worried about her. She had seemed curiously preoccupied. He was afraid that her reaction from war and excitement was wearing thin and that she was beginning to find him and their life together unbearably dull. She had taken to reading every scrap of news about Paris, and though she never mentioned it he had sensed in her a growing nostalgia.

He couldn’t imagine just what Paris meant to her. All he knew was that he loved her deeply and that he was growing to dread the very thought of the place, almost as though somehow it held the power to take her from him. When he had caught himself starting to think that way he had decided it was high time something was done; and feeling that Paris was a kind of test that sooner or later must be faced, if ever they were to reach sure

ground, he himself had suggested it for their vacation.

Every time he remembered the gratitude in her eyes when he had made the suggestion, his heart sank.

And now they were in Paris.

THE boat express steamed in with a deafening, hollow roar, under the lofty roof and Hashing lights of the Gare St. Lazare. While the train was still moving, leather-bel ted porters swung aboard and came tramping along the corridor. One of them slammed back the door of the compartment and shouted at Hal.

“The registered baggage receipt, Hal,” said Jenny.

“Sure,” said Hal, and produced it. He let Jenny instruct the porter; her perfect accent made him slightly self-conscious about his own French, which in fact wasn’t bad at all.

Glancing at Jenny as they walked together in the stream of passengers along the platform he thought that he never had seen her looking so excited, so alive, so lovely. It seemed to him quite incredible that she ever could have done the things he knew she had done, incredible that to her and Perry Ide, arriving here with forged documents and straight from a clandestine parachute drop, this station must have been once a potential deathtrap.

The porter had gone ahead with the baggage receipt. He was waiting for them outside the clearance room, and Jenny went into conference with him. Hal looked around with interest. He hadn’t served in Europe; he hadn’t been in Paris since he had spent a vacation here in college days.

The brightly lighted buffet bars were crowded. At small tables before the café under the station roof people were scooping oysters from the half shell and drinking white wine. Commuters were streaming past to the suburban trains; and one of these commuters checked so sharply that Hal noticed him.

He was a lean, tall man wearing a belted white raincoat and a blue beret and carrying a dispatch case, and he was looking hard at Jenny. Neon lights pulsing down from the roof gave a bluish pallor to his keen, intent face. Recognition came so unmistakably into his expression that Hal turned to Jenny.

“Someone seems to know you,” he said.

“Show me,” said Jenny eagerly.

Hal turned, expecting to see the man in the white raincoat approaching them; but he wasn’t. The

crowd was streaming on past. Hal glanced first; up the steps leading to train level, then back toward the entrance.

“Thin air,” he said blankly.

“You must have been mistaken,” said Jenny. She looked disappointed for a moment, then she put a hand in his. “Hal, I wonder if anyone will remember me,” she said, almost wistfully—“any of the old ‘Premont’ network crowd? I haven’t kept in touch. I used to think I just wanted to forget it all.”

Privately, Hal wished she had gone on thinking that way; but he wished something even more. He wished her to be happy.

He gave her hand a warm, reassuring pressure. “Certainly they’ll remember you,” he said. “Weren’t you the kingpin?”

Jenny laughed. “Not I,” she said. “Perry Jde

was.”

She turned back to the porter. Hid took another quick, unobtrusive look around for that man in the white raincoat, but there wasn’t any sign of him.

FOR some reason Jenny had set her mind on a certain little hotel on the Quai Voltaire; and when they erwtered the dim, old-fashioned foyer, all wickerwork chairs and potted palms, she looked expectantly at the reception desk. The smile of the woman there was merely formal, and again Hal saw disappointment in Jenny’s expression.

“Where are Monsieur and Madame Rignon?” she asked.

The woman stared. “Gone these three years and more, madame. The hotel is under new management.” She turned to Hal. “If monsieur will complete these police forms—”

Upstairs, in their room, Hal said quietly, “Old friends, Jenny?”

“Old friends and good ones,” Jenny said. She was brushing her hair. The brush became still; she gazed into the mirror, seeing scenes he couldn’t share. “This place was one of our best letter boxes,” she said. “Hal, l wonder what’s become of them?” Sitting down on one of the twin beds Hal looked soberly around this faded, comfortable room with its shuttered windows that opened on the Seine. Subtly, her words had made the poky little hotel mysterious for him, invested it with an atmosphere of intrigue, hazard and evasion and made him, oddly, think again about a tall man in a white raincoat in a neon-lit, rackety station.

Jenny glanced round, her hairbrush poised. She smiled quickly and carne and sat beside him. “Darling,” she said, “don’t look so poker faced. You look positively wooden. Hal, let’s have dinner somewhere gay, shall we?”

He kissed her, chuckling, “You’re the guide. Show me the town.”

He lay long awake that night, though, thinking about the excessive eccentricity of life and wars. The windows and shutters stood wide open; the perfume of Paris was in the warm, riverside air. He heard a whisper:

“Still awake, Hal?”

“Hallo, Mrs. Kegan,” he said. “I thought you were in dreamland. Like a cigarette?”

“No, thanks.”

He lighted one himself, and at the flare of the match Jenny turned her face away. Hal lay back, inhaling smoke.

Jenny said, “What did he look like, Hal?”

“Who?” said Hal, though he knew who she meant well enough.

“The man at the Gare St. Lazare,” said Jenny.

“Oh, him.” There was a measured, slow thumping in his chest, deep down. Staring at the red dot of his cigarette in the dark, he described the man meticulously.

Jenny lay silent. The lights of a late car, humming by along the Quai Voltaire, arched over the ceiling. Hal, propping himself on an elbow to stub out his cigarette, peered across at Jenny’s bed.

“Does it mean anything to you,” he said, “that description?”

“No,” said Jenny, “I don’t know anyone like that.” He heard her turn on her side, away from him. “Good night, Hal.”

IN THE Boulevard St. Germain next morning the café awnings trembled in visible currents of heat; the trees drooped; passing cars flashed in the sun; there was a constant yip of horns and shrilling of gendarmes’ whistles.

Jenny hadn’t named any particular destination, yet Hal felt somehow that she had one. They walked unhurriedly, hut as they turned up the Boulevard St. Michel, busy with shopping women carrying yard-long loaves under their arms, he had the impression that she was trying to reach some decision. Stopping to look into shop windows, she wasn’t really seeing anything, he was sure.

“Hal,” she said at last, “I’ve never told you about Mère Raymonde, have 1? Without her there could have been no ‘Prémont’ network. Her place was our chief rendezvous and hide-out. It was the heart of the whole web. She ran every kind of risk for us. Her place was our sanctuary—our hospital, too, more than once. She never failed us. She—she was the mother of us all.”

Hal said gently, “Maybe you’d rather go to see her alone, Jenny?” “No,” said Jenny. “No, I want you to come.”

He thought he knew now why she had been hesitating. It was because she had a dread of finding Mère Raymonde gone, as the Rignons had been gone. But when, deep in the maze of ancient, narrow streets behind the Pantheon, they came to a cobbled, unfrequented alley, there was that alias, “Prémont,” staring at them from a signboard projecting above a window:

Vins et Charbons

CAFE DU RESEAU PREMONT

Jenny stopped, gazing up at the legend. Her eyes were shining. “It

was called the Café Pot-de-Fer, Hal,” she said. “She’s renamed it, for those sixteen months. She’s here!”

She ran forward, and Hal saw the bead curtain in the doorway swing to behind her. Sunshine throbbed up from the cobbles; a noonday stillness quelled the alley. The little wineshop, for which obscurity had been once the only safety, now proudly flourished its defiant blazon: Café of the Prémor.t Network. Hal walked forward, hesitated for a moment, long and blond and loose-limbed on the step, then held aside the bead curtain.

TENNY was in the arms of a dumpy old lady with grey, neat hair and a calm face. The old lady was chuckling, “Why so long, Jenny? 1 knew you’d come hack on» day, but why so long? All the others have been to see me.”

“All?” said Jenny.

“All except one,” said Mère Raymonde. “He’s with you now, eh? You’ve brought him?”

“Perry Ide?” said Jenny. “No, Mère Raymonde. Haven’t you heard from him?”

“No sight or sound since the war,” said the old lady—“not so much as a postcard.” She caught sight of Hal, then, standing against the sun-chinked bead curtain, and her hands dropped from Jenny’s shoulders. “Monsieur?”

Jenny turned quickly. “I’m sorry, Hal. Mère Ray monde, this is Hal Kegan—my husband.”

Hal saw the surprise in the old lady’s expression.

“Be proud of her, Hal,” she said.

“I am,” said Hal—“and I’m proud to meet her friends, Mère Raymonde.”

“Ah, her friends. Some of them will be here presently,” said Mère Raymonde. “You’ve come on a good day —Wednesday.” She set out three

glasses on the zinc counter, poured white wine. “You see our new name over the door, Jenny? This is still the rendezvous for the ‘Prémont’ people. On Wednesdays such of them as are in Paris come here to lunch. Many are scattered. A dozen might come today —perhaps twenty. Some are doing well— Louis Monnard, for example, it is difficult to see how the Bourse could get along without him. Others—what would you? Life is a seesaw. But up or down they all know where there’s lunch and good friends to be found on a Wednesday, at the old rendezvous. They all come, sooner or later. They remember how it used to be between all of us, eh? One can’t quite forget, Jenny?”

“No, Mère Raymonde,” Jenny said softly.

“Listen!” said the old lady. Outside in the sun-baked alley voices sounded. She beamed. “Here are some of them coming now. You’ll take the counter for me, Jenny? You’ve done that before, eh? 1 go to look to my girls in the kitchen.”

Jenny lifted the flap, went quickly behind the bar. There was a color in her cheeks, a light in her brown eyes which Hal hadn’t seen there in a long while. The bead curtain swirled. Threcyoung men, one a lieutenant in uniform and blue kepi, came in.

“The messieurs wish?” said Jenny formally.

They looked at her. They stared. They gave one simultaneous great shout: “Jenny!”

MORE and more arrived. rFhey all shouted Jenny’s name, kissed her boisterously on both cheeks, and shook hands cordially with Hal when she introduced him.

Only one regarded him with a curious and speculative air. This was Louis Monnard, a good-looking, dark, obviously successful young man, with shrewd brown eyes. He had come with a blond girl, elegant and lively, called Claire, and she and Jenny kissed like old friends.

Lunch was eaten at a long table set in a little, sunny courtyard at the back. Jenny was the centre of all the talk; and from what Hal, with his slightly plodding French, was able to make out, it was clear that Perry Ide— “Prémont,” as they mostly called him —was something more than the exleader of these people. His exploits, his resource and daring, had become a legend to them.

It was the blond girl, Claire, who said, after a while, “It’s strange that he should never have come back to see us —never written even to Mère Raj^monde. Jenny, you were literally his right hand. Surely you've heard from him since the war?”

A tenseness crept over Hal as he waited for her reply. She only shook her head.

The young officer said, with a shrug, “He’s forgotten us.”

Mère Raymonde spoke quietly. “He forgot none of us when he returned home. There were citations for us all —even an old lady like me. Ask yourself whose report got them for us.”

“True,” said a huge, wild-haired, bearded young man. “The fact is, Claudel, we were all wartime amateurs recruited and guided by him. Clandestine work was a purple patch in our lives, an adventure we’ll never forget. But Ide’s a professional. What to us was a flaming drama was to him just a job. It’s a difference of viewpoint. Look at the instance of Denise Tral—”

“He recruited her,” the blond girl explained, turning to Hal, “and the little she-cat, with her angel face and her honey hair, turned out to be a playback—she was working for the enemy. She had a contact arranged with them the very night Ide found out the truth about her. She knew every safe address. She’d have blown the lot of us that night. She was actually on her way. It was a near thing. She was on the platform of the Pantheon Metro station when Ide caught up with her—”

“Enough,” Mère Raymonde said sharply. “Why remember the black days?”

“My fault, Mère Raymonde,” said the bearded young giant, and he raised his glass. “To the Boss, anyway— wherever he is.”

The sun glared down on empty bottles and coffee cups on the long table, as lunch came to an end. Most of the party gathered around Jenny, giving her addresses, invitations. Hal felt a touch on his arm.

“Come inside,” said Louis Monnard. “I want to talk to you.”

CURIOUS, Hal followed him through into the empty café. The door to the alley was locked. Monnard stepped behind the bar, poured a couple of cognacs.

“He’s not so far away,” he said quietly.

“Who?” Hal said.

“Perry Ide,” said Monnard, and pushing one of the thimble glasses across the bar looked at Hal directly. “You’ve seen enough now,” said Monnard, “to know how we all feel about Ide and Jenny and Mère Raymonde. There’s nothing we wouldn’t do, any of us, for those three people. That’s why I’ve got to tell you frankly that if I’d seen Jenny today and hadn’t known you existed I’d have told her at once that Perry Ide’s in Paris and I know where. And I’d have believed I was doing them both a service.”

It was very quiet in the café. Sunshine streamed bright and hot through the small window. Voices from the courtyard out back sounded far off.

Hal didn’t move. Monnard couldn’t have told him much more plainly that Perry Ide and Jenny had loved each other, that somehow things had gone awry for them, and that he—Monnard —believed that Jenny and Ide both now bitterly regretted the break. Yet Jenny had said, “It was just a coverstory ‘marriage,’ Hal—nothing more.”

Monnard was saying, “I like you, Hal. I’ve watched the way you look at her, and I believe her happiness comes first with you. Look at the position I’m in. If I tell her Ide’s in Paris I might harm you. If I just keep my mouth shut I might harm her. 1 can’t make the decision my responsibility. It’s up to you. You know whether she’s happy with you or not— I don’t. It’s for you to decide whether she’s to know where Perry is.”

Hal picked up one of the thimble glasses. He stared at it unseeingly, a slow thumping ir his chest, his brown face woodenly impassive. It seemed to him that he’d known, all through this past year, that there was a test to be faced, an inevitable test, before Jenny and he ever could reach sure ground. Now he felt as if he’d known all the time, without ever admitting it to himself, that the test wasn’t really Paris. It was a man. Tt was the man with whom, for sixteen months of comradeship and hazard, she had lived under a mask of marriage.

He drew in his breath. “Where is he?”

“Hotel St. Gabriel, Avenue Mozart,” said Monnard. “I went there three days ago, to book a room for a friend. I walked straight into Perry Ide in the foyer. I didn’t blurt out his name, of course, and it was as well. He’s calling himself ‘Réolle.’ We had a drink together. He’s over here on some job in conjunction with the French intelligence service. He asked me not to tell anyone he was here, and I wouldn’t have done—but for Jenny showing up today.”

Hal still stared at his glass. Monnard couldn’t have given him a fairer chance. Jenny need know nothing; he could get her out of Paris as soon as possible—

“Tell her,” said Hal abruptly, and hardly knew it was himself who spoke.

“Tell her?” Monnard stared at him.

Hal drank his cognac. He returned the glass to the bar. It was no use trying to hide his head in the sand. She must know. And she mustn’t feel compelled to speak of it to him unless she wished; it would be better she shouldn’t know that Monnard had spoken to him first. She must be entirely free to act as she thought best.

“Tell her,” Hal said, “just as you’d have told her if I didn’t exist, Monnard. Ca va?"

“Ca va,” said Monnard, with a shrug. He refilled the two thimble glasses and added grimly, “Good luck, my friend.”

THEY had dinner in the restaurant of the hotel that evening, just Jenny and Hal. It was quiet here, and peaceful, and Jenny was quiet, too. She looked a little pale and her brown eyes were thoughtful.

“Tired, dear?” he asked her.

“I am, a bit,” she admitted. “Seeing them all again was so—you know. But I’m glad we came. Trying to put them all out of my mind, as I did at first—trying to pretend I just wasn’t interested in what had become of people who’d meant so tremendously much to me once—it was wrong, and impossible. I’m so glad we came.” She smiled at him suddenly across the pink-lit table. “I’ve made an awful lot of engagements for us, I’m afraid. You don’t mind?”

“You know I don’t,” Hal said, and he waited quietly, expectantly.

He waited for her to tell him about Perry Ide’s being in Paris.

He waited in vain.

And he wondered, lying long awake, if he had been a fool to give Monnard i the green light. Would other men have done it? He didn’t know. All he knew was, he couldn’t have done otherwise.

“Humdrum,” he thought bleakly, “that’s me.”

He knew just what it meant when, after morning coffee and croissants in their room, Jenny broke the news that she had some shopping to do. He knew only too well where she was going, and his heart sank.

“It’d be dull for you,” said Jenny brightly. “Meet you for lunch here?”

“Fine,” said Hal, no less brightly. “I’ll stay and sharpen my French on the newspapers.”

Jenny patted the top of his blond head. “Your French is good!”

He heard the click of her heels down the stairs. He rose, feeling wretched, and walked over to the window. It was a baking-hot day again. In the shade of trees across the street, the book boxes along the river parapet were propped open; people were questing idly among the dusty volumes.

Jenny’s trim, summery figure came out from the hotel and crossed the street obliquely toward the Pont Royal. She signaled a taxi, stepped , into it. And a man who was standing j at a book box near the bridge laid down a book, hailed a taxi. He was trailing Jenny.

He was a lean, tall man in a grey suit and a beret. The last time Hal had »eenhim had been at the Gare St. Lazare and he had been wearing a white raincoat.

Yellow taxi and blue taxi shot away over the bridge.

rFHE rigor which had held Hal for a X second motionless at the window left him abruptly. He snatched up his jacket. Racing down the stairs, pulling on the jacket as he went, he ran out hatless into the blazing day. There was no taxi in sight; there never was when you needed one as he needed one now. Half running, half walking, he had crossed the bridge and reached the vivid flower beds and strenuous statuary of the Tuileries Gardens before a taxi came along.

“Avenue Mozart,” he said, “and hurry !”

He was gambling. Jenny’s taxi and the pursuing blue sedan were long gone from view; he hadn’t seen which way they had turned after crossing the bridge. He was counting on the belief that she had headed for the address which Monnard had given her. But he knew he could be wrong.

He leaned forward. “How far’s this j Avenue Mozart?”

“Ten minutes,” said the driver.

Ten minutes through these broad,

! splendid, sun-flashing thoroughfares— Place du Canada, Cours de la Reine, Place du Trocadero—seemed interminI able to him. He was sweating as he i stared out, watching the street names, j Chaussée de la Muette, Avenue Mozart

at last. And a yellow taxi hummed by, coming up the slope of the treelined, sun-drowsed street—a taxi without a passenger. Jenny’s?

Next second, he saw the blue sedan, a hundred yards ahead, parked under a tree. He stopped his taxi, thrust a bill at the driver, headed with long strides for the sedan.

It was standing parked near the corner of a side street—a cul-de-sac, Hal siw, looking into it. Each side was a small, shady, unrailed garden, with seats and green turf. In the garden on the left the tall man in the

beret was leaning casually against the trunk of a tree, in deep shade.

Through the screening foliage, he was gazing up at the rambling old building which blocked the cul-de-sac. Crumbling letters on a cream wall read “Hotel-Pension St. Gabriel.” Windows and faded blue shutters all stood wide open to the sun. At a second-floor window Jenny was standing, talking to someone in the room. She moved from view just as Hal glimpsed her.

His long shadow, moving across the grass, merged into the deeper tree shade as he came up very quietly behind the man in the beret, and waited, watching.

Another figure moved across the window up there—the figure of a slender man, not much taller than Jenny, with lacquer-smooth, black hair. He was in shirt sleeves, and Hal remembered with a queer shock something said by the blond girl, Claire, at Mère Raymonde’s: “You were liter-

ally his right hand, Jenny.”

The man up there at the window, his back to it, talking, gesticulating with a cigarette, had an empty sleeve. He was Perry Ide.

Still leaning against the tree trunk, the man in the beret, a yard from Hal, drew an automatic from the breast of his jacket and through the screening foliage sighted upward at the back of Ide’s head.

He only sighted. Then Hal’s big, tennis-player’s hands clamped down on the man’s wrist. With a twist and heave of his long, loose-limbed body, Hal flung the man across the turf, clear of the shadow, out into the sun’s glare. He lunged right after him, and as the man came to his knees, clutched him up by his lapels and hit him with every ounce he could muster.

He stood over the man, waiting for him to move again, but the man just lay there. Hal picked up the automatic from the turf. The one-armed man, Ide, ran out from the hotel. Jenny was behind him, and it was at her, not Ide, that Hal looked.

AN OLD friend, Jenny,” he said. d\. “The man from the Gare St. Lazare—the man who recognized you. Seems he wanted Ide’s blood.”

“It had to be him or me, sooner or later,” Perry Ide said. He was about thirty-five, with a hard, haggard, dark face and cold, light-blue eyes. “I’ve come a long way on no more than a faint hint of this party’s whereabouts. He’s the reason I’m in Paris.”

Jenny said, “Who is he, Perry?”

“A party who knows a lot too much about the inside of a good many things, and sells what he knows where it does us the least good,” Ide said. “You’ve never heard of him, Jenny, but evidently he knew you’d once worked with me. When he recognized you, as Hal here says he did, he must have imagined you were still in business with me. He evidently didn’t realize Hal had noted him. He thought all he had to do was watch you, Jenny, till you made a contact with me, then he could let me have it.”

“I led him to you?” Jenny said in dismay. “I was so careful, too, Perry. Monnard told me you were on a job, that’s why I didn’t breathe a word even to Hal about coming to see you.” “No harm done,” Ide said. “He’s coming around—and so are some interested spectators by the look of it. Help me get him inside there. I’ll phone my French colleagues and get him taken care of. Then we’ll have a drink, Hal, and get acquainted.”

THEY had that drink, and one or two others, up in Ide’s room; but just what Perry Ide’s feeling was for Jenny, or Jenny’s for this slender, taut, hard-eyed, one-armed man, Hal couldn’t judge.

They were on the point of leaving, and Ide was opening the door for her, when he turned to Hal and said, “I haven’t congratulated you on Jenny. No man in my grim business, Hal, ever had a teammate with more courage, unselfishness and idealism than I had when Jenny worked with me. Ours was strictly a cover-story ‘marriage,’ but yours is real. You’re a lucky man.”

“I know it,” Hal said.

“I wouldn’t like Jenny to hear me say this,” Ide said, “but I hate this town. I hate seeing or thinking of any place or anybody, even Jenny herself, who reminds me of the ‘Prémont’ network. You see, I loved a girl just once in my life—”

They were moving to the door, and Hal saw the clenching of Ide’s one lean hand, as though some thought pierced and tortured him.

“She had hair like honey and the face of an angel,” Ide said. “Her name was Denise Tral, and she died in Paris here—electrocuted on the live rail of the Pantheon Metro station.”

The door shut hard. Hal turned slowly. Along the landing Jenny was waiting for him.