LOOKING OVER MY shoulder, I quickly entered the Café DuMonde. I knew I’d lost my tail. I searched in the dim light for Gaston. There, over by the fake fireplace he sat, yakking with Michele, the cutie, five-foot-three of gorgeous, delectable womanhood. It figured! Leave the guy alone for two minutes and he’s after all that’s natural.
I’d been gone an hour, not my fault. But my news couldn’t wait. I moved up quickly.
“Gaston!” I whispered loudly. My voice carried enough and he looked up.
“Frank, you’re late.” His face took on a disgruntled look. Why do the French always have to try laying a guilt trip on us Americans? I couldn’t go figure on that one.
“No choice. Got to see you. Now!” I turned my right thumb downward. The news wasn’t good and I wanted Michele to leave, too.
Gaston caught on and spanked Michele out of the way. She pursed her lips and made some kind of an “Ooo” sound, only it sounded like “Ouh!”
How do they do that? I pursed my lips but couldn’t make that sound. I smiled inwardly in spite of myself. How silly, I thought, bad business and me trying to pronounce a word the way the French do?
I love to hear the French language spoken. It’s very liquid and I don’t understand a word of it, let alone try to pronounce it. Made me wonder why “M” sent me into this when we have a French-speaking agent in the department. But, I do what I’m told.
So Michele left and I got close with Gaston. In my brief glance I could see the fat man wore a black silk shirt, maroon trousers, the baggy kind I hate, and a cravat. Did it make him look sexy or something? My stomach churned.
I brought my thoughts up, higher than his had been, anyway. Back to business! We had trouble here and Gaston could stop this from getting out of hand. Still, I stayed dubious.
“Tell me what is the trouble, Frank.”
“It’s your damn French foreign legion, Gaston. You were supposed to arrange for Marcel and Mickel to be at the drop site and out of sight. They’re parading around like they want someone to take pictures of them or something. What gives?”
“Oh, ho, ho, Frank! That is the best cover of all. Who would suspect those two of being undercover agents?”
I wasn’t convinced. “No self-respecting agent would act like that here, Gaston. Our prey is going to fly, I’ll bet a dollar.”
“An American dollar?” Gaston said with a smirk.
“You know what I mean.”
“Yes, Frank. You are young and you do not know my people. They are showing themselves to be tourists in a place where you would expect tourists. They will miss nothing. You do not have to worry, Frank. We will be there to catch the “evildoers,” as your President Bush would have said.”
Gaston laughed again. His belly jumped around. Obscene, I thought, absolutely obscene! How could Michele even look at this misshapen man? I kept it to myself.
In the position of go-between, I didn’t feel I was accomplishing much. Still, Gaston and his group had the nod from “M.” What could I do?
“Look, my little friend, in twenty minutes, we will have our answer. Sit with me and have a drink. You are nervous. All will be well, it is my promise.”
“No, Gaston, I can’t. I have to get back to my post. At least I won’t be seen.”
Suddenly a dangerous looking gun appeared in Gaston’s hand. “Sit down, Frank.”
He said it quietly but I caught his meaning, like crystal. Now what, I thought? I sat.
Michelle came over to our table with some duct tape. No smile on the pretty lady, either.
“Put your hands behind the chair, Frank.” He gestured with his gun. I did what he asked.
Michelle took a long strip of tape and expertly bound my hands, first to each other and then to the chair-back. Staying to the side in case I decided to kick, she bound my feet, one to each chair leg. Agent Frank Farber was going nowhere.
“This is for your own good, Frank. I won’t have Michele cover your mouth if you promise not to yell, okay?”
I felt like saying plenty, but I kept it inside. I didn’t want my mouth covered. I felt a cold coming on and it would be tough to breathe through mucus-clogged nostrils. “I won’t yell.”
”Good, Frank, that is good.”
How had this friend of the U. S. Government so suddenly turned against us, and why? A lot more going on than I had any idea, and I didn’t like it. “M” assured me of this Gaston’s friendship and that we could rely on and trust him.
I didn’t like him to begin with, but in the Service you don’t get a choice of bedfellows. I tried not to be judgmental, but he seemed decidedly less like a friend now. Couple of points for my instinct! Anyway, trussed up like this, I could do nothing.
They’d sat me down at the far end of the table in a little alcove where I wouldn’t be visible to anyone walking in the door. In the mid-afternoon, customers were few. I thought Gaston would have Michele lock the door anyway, but he didn’t. He did put his gun away. Then he turned and kept his eye on the door.
It came to me. He expected someone. So Marcel and Mickel were a ruse! Why did Gaston keep me here? I’d have been none the wiser watching the drop site. There must be another reason. Guess I’m dangerous. Either that or Gaston wanted me where he could see me, plain and simple.
Twenty minutes ticked away. I slowly tested my bonds. Very tight and well done, but I had a fraction of an inch of play. Maybe I could loosen the tape enough to rip it, if I got the chance. I didn’t think Michele used a lot of tape.
I’m small and don’t look like much. “M” says I make a perfect agent. Nobody would notice me in a crowd. Maybe so, but I’m wiry and strong, too. I don’t let on and like I say, I don’t look it. I labored at my bonds.
Three things worked for me at the moment. Michele went back into the kitchen to do something. I didn’t know where she could be, but she couldn’t see me. Gaston had his eye on the door and gave me no attention. The table covered my slow movements.
I flexed my right leg, tightening up the muscle. I felt something give. Ripping tape makes a sound. I tried to rip it gently. It took a couple of minutes of intense pressure. When it felt about to give, I flexed the left leg and did the same thing.
Meanwhile I had managed to gain an inch on the tape to my hands. Maybe she wasn’t all that expert, after all. Maybe they underestimated me. I kept glancing at the door. More than twenty minutes had passed. I noticed Gaston fidgeting in his chair. Nervous or worried?
The pressure of breaking the bonds quietly tired me out, but I got a new lease on it when I felt a sudden give behind me. I’d disconnected from the chair-back. Another two minutes and I’d be free.
Maybe I made a sound. Gaston suddenly looked back at me, hard, like trying to figure out what he heard. He started to get up and check on his prisoner when a shadow fell across the door. The knob turned slowly. Gaston turned back, a faint smile on his face, his thoughts elsewhere. I breathed a small sigh of relief.
A tall, dark, broad-shouldered man entered the restaurant. Behind him came a gorilla of a guy. He must have been six-six and three-fifty. My heart sank.
The first man said, “Ah, Gaston.”
“Monsieur le Grande.” Gaston, now totally composed and self-assured, stood and shook the man’s hand.
The tall man looked at me briefly and then at the restaurant owner. Gaston shrugged and said, “Earlier business. I will finish it later.”
They both looked away. I became a piece of furniture.
“Please.” Gaston gestured and then sat back down in his chair. The tall man sat across from him while the big man stood behind him protectively, glancing around every few seconds. Monsieur le Grande put a thin attaché case on the table. I caught a part of Gaston’s expression. The Frenchman seemed about to drool.
I renewed pressure on the remaining bonds. Suddenly, with a little jerk, I got free. No one noticed. I tested my legs. Yes, free there, too. I brought my eyes to slits, my vision darting this way and that, looking for anything that would help me. It concerned me that Michele had stayed out of sight.
Gaston had put his .44 Magnum in his right side pocket. When the man moved in his chair, I could see the bulge shift. I might be able to get the gun. I thought about it and a plan hit me. I almost smiled.
Meanwhile, le Grande opened the case and took out a fair-sized package. He carefully unwrapped it and removed a velvet bag with a pull-tie at the top. Then he laid a royal blue velvet mat down and opened the tie, pouring the contents slowly onto the velvet. With a small tinkling sound, marquee, square, round and oval cut diamonds poured out. They were brilliant, all of them in the two and three carat range. I’d have bet they were all in the vvs category.
I couldn’t see well and dared not move for a better vantage. I guessed there must have been ten million dollars worth of diamonds in the collection. Why Gaston had turned traitor didn’t seem so strange anymore.
The traitor pulled a jeweler’s loupe out of a shirt pocket and ran his fingers through the pile. He chose one and studied it, put it down and took another. I watched him do it a few times. Le Grande let Gaston check out the diamonds, but kept a wary eye on him. Finally Gaston looked up.
He said, “Yes, they are beautiful. I will have Michele bring in the money.”
He snapped his fingers. Michele came in immediately, carrying another attaché case, larger, black and rectangular. From the way she carried it, it seemed fairly heavy. She glanced at me, but did not stop. Gaston took the case from her.
“Merci, mon chere,” he said. Michele stood looking at the brilliant treasure below. Her eyes sparkled and she smiled, but said nothing. Gaston grabbed her hand and looked up at her.
I saw my chance. I rose from my chair, picked up the edge of the table and heaved it at the three men. I caught them completely by surprise and off balance. Le Grande and his gorilla fell back. Gaston, being slightly to the side grabbed for anything he could. As he turned, my hand dove into Gaston’s pocket and I came up with the .44. In the same smooth motion with my other hand, I pushed Gaston into the tall man and they both went down.
The gorilla gained his feet and pulled his gun out, even while trying to steady himself. I put one between the big man’s eyes. He slumped to the floor, twitched, and lay still. One dead gorilla! The gun had a kick like a mule.
Michele turned to run. I didn’t want to kill her, but I couldn’t let her escape. I put one in her right leg and she went down screaming. I didn’t feel right about ruining such beautiful womanhood, but she’d lost my vote as a friend.
I moved around the table and aimed the .44 at the two men sprawled on the floor. Gaston glared up at me, eyes filled with hate. The other man looked at me curiously, as if he couldn’t quite believe what had happened.
“Move and die. I’ll make it simple.” I found a telephone a step away under a nearby counter. Without taking my eyes from the men on the floor I dialed “M.”
“Got an interesting crew here, boss,” I said when “M” came on the line. I explained where I was and how I saw my situation. I listened for another ten seconds, said okay and hung up.
“Get comfortable. You won’t be here long.” I glanced at Michele, a little worried. She lay whimpering, her leg broken and too much blood flowing from the wound. I didn’t want her to die. I grabbed a sash cord from a room divider, yanked it down and threw it to her. I knew her leg must hurt like hell, but she took the cord and tied it around her upper leg, twisting it into a tourniquet. She screamed again, but held it and the blood slowed.
The tense situation lasted another ten minutes, when two members of my team came boiling through the doorway, sized up situation and let me off the hook.
“M” came through the door last. “Nice work, Frank.”
“Thanks, sir. I just feel bad about the lady.”
“You’ll get over it.”