count witte took a quick look out the window after seating himself in the sixth compartment.
"so, " colonel osbert mccutcheon repeated, "how long is this to continue?"
the coiunt spread his hands. "it will continue as long as it continues"
"stop playing the inscrutable easterner." colonel mccutcheon adjusted his monocle. "don't you get tired of riding the same train all the time?"
"very tired indeed." he count made a barely perceptible nod toward toward the colonel's stonefaced swiss secretary.
"i trust calvin with all my secrets," the colonel replied with a polite show of indignatian. "jago too."
"very well. calvin, jago, stand in the corridor please. we will humor this son of the steppes."
" i don't think we shall be riding this train much longer," the count murmured when he and the colonel were alone.
"it might be prudent to leave before we reach the imperial border. zurich, perhaps, or geneva."
"i had considered disembarking at zurich myself," the colonel replied.
"it's these infernal black crows of famous detectives. trouble follows them. we are likely to be detained for days at some backwater station while they unravel some piddling jewel theft or case of mistaken identity."
"or - murder."
"i wouldn't go so far as that."
the count tapped the tips of his fingers together. "zurich, eh?"
"yes, there is a new play by gibsen opening at the cafe rousseau. i have a pair of tickets. i thought i might as well use them."
"i thought gibsen was out of favor."
"well he is. that is why i obtained the tickets so easily."
"ah. it is a good thing to be able to obtain tickets so easily."
"indeed." the colonel leaned back. "it enables one to do favors for friends."
"and to be able to do favors for friends, that is the best thing of all."
the colonel simply nodded.
the count nodded back.
with that, the colonel reached over and opened the compartment door and calvin and jago reentered and took their seats.
conversation had languished in the seventh compartment. the patriarch nestor, sitting across from miss gertrude gainsworth, had fallen asleep and le comte de scaramouche-st mathieu, pleading mild exhaustion sfter his exhiliarating disquisition on the lost lemurs of gondwana and their survival in the architectonics of the universe's religions, slouched down in his seat with his long legs propped up on the seat across from him.
miss gertrude gainsworth looked out the window at the flat countryside speeding by in the night.
"i must say, this trip has been almost as boring as this landscape - except for the conversation, of course."
"yes," the comte agreed, "when we travel together, people are on the best behavior. sad, very sad."
"i wonder if i should stop in zurich, and catch the morning express to milan."
"that is up to you, my dear miss gainsworth. " the comte thought for a moment. "do you know, i have a ticket for the opening of a new play by gibsen, which is opening at the cafe rousseau. would you like it?"
"you are too kind. but isn't gibsen out of favor?"
"yes, but unseen forces are working to restore him to favor. that is why i obtained this ticket so easily."
"and you don't plan to use it yourself?"
"i don't care so much for gibsen, whether he is in favor or out. i only took the ticket out of politeness."
"well then, i will take you up on your kind offer. now, if you will excuse me, i would like to take a little walk in the corridor."
outside in the corridor, miss gainsworth put a discreet ear to the door of the seventh compartment but there was only silence within.
"this is most annoying, most annoying indeed. i had been looking forward to this for weeks."
despite his auras of facelessness and implacability, calvin, colonel mccutcheon's secretary, was wont to unburden himself with some warmth to the phleghmatic bodyguard jago when they were out of the colonel's hearing.
calvin and jago were seated at an outdoor table at the cafe rousseau. the colonel and count witte were inside, waiting for the curtain to open for the premiere of mr gibsen's new play, heidi senberg, or the wages of guilt. the count had entered with the ticket that calvin had planned to use.
jago shrugged. "this is not the first time. you know the colonel often uses the second tickets this way - that is why he obtains them."
"of course. but i am a great admirer of mr gibsen and was quite excited that he is coming back into favor."
jago didn't reply. he was looking across the street where count witte's valet and bodyguard were standing with folded arms.
"we should invite those fellows over. it seems hard that they should have to stand there like that for the whole evening."
"as you wish."
jago beckoned the pair over. after a slight hesitation they started across the street.
"ah. ' exclaimed calvin as ashvili, the georgian valet and djug, the mongolian bodyguard seated themselves, "here is a bird of ill omen indeed."
" i beg your pardon," ashvili murmured.
"not you, gentlemen, not you. this dreadful american woman."
miss gertrude gainsworth, with her famous enormous handbag, was crossing the street and headed straight for their table.
"ah, mr calvin, not attending the performance i see."
"you americans have a genius for the direct. no madame, i am not attending the performance."
"i trust you will enjoy it."
"i don't know - it sounds sort of dreary. is the colonel inside?"
"yes, madame, the colonel is inside. with his guest for the evening, count witte."
"thank you. i had better be getting along. it was nice talking to you."
the foursome watched miss gainsworth enter the theater, after some confusion finding her ticket in her big handbag.
"an american indeed," observed ashvili.
"yes," said calvin. "she considers herself the sworn enemy of the colonel. like many ladies, especially from the anglo-saxon nations, she takes a most dim view of his researches."
calvin drummed his fingers on the table. "she is from cicero illinois." he leaned forward and lowered his voice. "she is the sister of al capone."
inside the cafe rousseau a slight delay had been announced for the opening act of heidi senberg. a crowd had gathered around the dimunutive but portly mr gibsen, but colonel mccutcheon and count witte stood apart from it.
"a most unpleasant non-surprise," observed the colonel, as miss gainsworth handed in her ticket and entered.
"one of the detectives," said the count. "you were expecting her?"
"she is my sworn enemy," the colonel answered. "she plays the american fool, but do not be deceived." he leaned over and whispered in the counts ear. "she is the sister of al capone."