By BARBARA STEWART
WAS it my wife? I turned the question over in my mind as I walked down the stately second-floor hallway of my home — a hallway that had not changed despite the German occupation which had changed so many things.
At the far end, the woman started to retreat into my wife’s room. Then I saw her harden herself for an encounter with me. My wife, Mima, had done this each time we met since I had undertaken my Quisling job. For once I was pleased, realizing from it that it was she and not the Nazi maid who had been put into my house because she so closely resembled my wife.
I had not told Mima how I had reached my decision to pose as a false collaborationist. I could not endanger my wife. But tonight I had orders to secure her aid, and although I knew the risks she would run, I cannot deny that I was glad she would know at last.
“Mima,” I said, wondering eagerly what expression would replace her look of contempt, “Mima, you have heard of the man who is called Pepito?”
“Who,” she asked sullenly, “has not heard of Pepito the Patriot?”
I leaned toward her, for I was aware my house had been dictographed. She moved back from me. Was there a dictograph behind the ruffle of her
blouse? I had to chance it. Risks like that we must take every day.
“I am Pepito,”I whispered.
“No one but the children of your Nazi friends
would believe that,” she said. “ I have seen Pepito.”
I thought I saw her problem. Since the lights went out in Europe, we have all had a hard time recognizing each other in the dark. Obviously, for underground security, I could give her no word but mine. I whispered desperately for fifteen minutes.
“No. No, Carlos Josef,” she said. “I cannot believe it. If you were Pepito, you would not endanger me by telling me of it. And if you were Carlos Josef—” She hesitated, and I had a flash of doubt that she was sure I was her husband.
I saw that the workings of her mind were jammed by the revelation of my real identity. She had been corrupted by oversimplicity. But who could be having this influence on her?
The doorbell rang. I did not have time to ponder my question. I felt in my vest pocket for my Luger. It was there. But was it loaded? Another chance to take. I hurried downstairs and drew Luis, my friend from boyhood, into the library in the west wing. We closed the door, and I threw the secret switches that cut out the dictographs and which at the same time supplied them with a short program of piano music. I had ten minutes. I hesitated before the switch in the fireplace, knowing the dictograph hidden there had been installed not by the Germans but by the Free French. Furthermore, I had tapped these wires to check up on myself. They had their uses. I hesitated. But Luis did not notice. He seemed agitated.
“Carlos,” he said, “the underground has told me terrible news.”
I watched his eyes. I wondered if he knew that our organization know he thought we knew that he was spying on us for the Germans.
“Someone very close to you is under suspicion,”he said.
I reflected that if he made a frank statement, it would be awkward for me. How could I, an underground worker posing as a fraudulent collaborationist, help him, my best friend, a collaborationist posing as a fraudulent underground worker?
He filled in my silence by adding, “I hate to be the one to tell you this. But your life may depend on your knowing it. Carlos Josef, the woman you believe to be your wife is under the influence of the Americans.”
I stared at him a long time, trying to figure out the import of his telling me this. Did the Germans think I did not know where simplicity came from? Or was he implying the Americans had been corrupted in this respect by Soviet Russia?
The doorbell rang. I hurried to answer it. Luis hurried along beside me.
“Who is this other dinner guest?” he asked.
“Captain von Schmidt,” I said.
Luis laid a restraining hand on my arm and forced me to look at him. “To dine with you, you have invited me and the Gestapo chief he said. This seems dangerous. Won’t the Germans doubt you if they find you are still friendly with persons like me?”
I knew how he expected me to react to this clever speech. But he did not know, as I did, that von Schmidt was one of us. How could he since he did not know that von Schmidt was a Norwegian who had convinced the Germans he was a renegade Czech?
The doorbell rang. I hurried, for I did not want to keep the Captain waiting. Luis hurried, too. My wife had reached the door before us and was helping the Captain off with his coat. I saw him slip a note into her hand.
I turned to a handy sideboard to get my guests some cocktail sherry and think this over: Could they be lovers? Was I going to have to be jealous as well as confused? Perhaps he was in reality an American pretending to be a Norwegian who, as a Czech, was disguised as a German to spy on our underground.
I took the tray on which drinks stood readypoured, and determined to pass the matter off with a smile. My butler, known to me only as QZ-531, had reported on these drinks.
“All but one of these are poisoned,” I said, pleasantly, knowing all of them were, but that no one would believe any of them were. And, as we drank them, I could have recited just who had put what poison into which glass and for whom it was intended. But, of course, I knew the end result would be too obvious to be important. Indeed, when we all died, I didn’t give it a second thought. I was still curious, however, about the identity of the woman, Mima.