Read The Sixth Key Online

Authors: Adriana Koulias

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Historical, #Thrillers

The Sixth Key (8 page)

BOOK: The Sixth Key
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‘Alright, but how did you find out so much?’

‘I have one or two friends in the
periodicals.’ La Dame took a long puff of his cigar. ‘So, are you going to tell
me what this is about and why you need to see this Pierre Plantard?’

Rahn heard La Dame but he was distracted by
that feeling again – that they were being watched – and found
himself scanning the room. ‘I don’t quite know how to start,’ he said, with a
strange laugh that sounded nervous to his ears. ‘It’s all rather a long story
really. But to cut it short, I have a new publisher.’

‘A new publisher?’ La Dame puffed away.
‘Congratulations, that’s wonderful. This calls for a celebration!’ He poured
two more glasses and regarded Rahn with an admiring eye. ‘That explains why
you’re dressed like Clark Gable. You’re clearly not the man who left
Ussat-les-Bains hounded by creditors! So, who in God’s name is it?’

Rahn looked at La Dame; his smile behind that
gold beard was all eagerness. The last thing Rahn wanted to do was drag his
friend into this messy business. He drank down his brandy before tackling an
unpleasant abridged confession, which now seemed to him, all things considered,
to be unavoidable.

‘When I saw you in Munich, do you remember me
telling you that I had an appointment in Berlin?’

‘Yes, a mysterious telegram – and money
if I remember correctly?’

‘Well, who do you think sent it?’

‘I don’t know, Marlene Dietrich?’

‘Cold, La Dame,’ he said. ‘Take another

‘Well, I’ll look for an antithesis then. Was
it the pope?’

‘Close. Hitler’s Black Pope.’ He leant
forwards and whispered, ‘It was the Reichsführer, Himmler.’

When La Dame’s disbelief turned to
comprehension he laughed. ‘You’re not serious, Rahn!’

Rahn shot him a look.

‘Could it be true? What did he want? I was
just reading about that weasel. I have to say, people here are talking about
nothing else these days – Hitler and his cronies. Wasn’t he a chicken
farmer? I dare say! I wouldn’t want to see him coming for me with an axe. Are
you going to let me prattle on, or are you going to tell me what he wanted?’

Rahn’s smile was weak. ‘Himmler made me an
offer I couldn’t refuse.’

‘Sounds dangerous?’

At that moment a man entered the café: medium
build, medium height, wearing an expression that was so benign, so plain and
commonplace that it made an immediate impression on Rahn. The man sat down and
began to roll a cigarette. Rahn tried to remember that saying from one of
Arthur Conan Doyle’s celebrated Sherlock Holmes tales and found it: There is
nothing so unnatural as the commonplace.

‘So, are you going to drag it out? Make me beg
you to tell me what it was?’

Rahn wrenched his eyes from the man to look at
La Dame.

‘They want two books, nothing more than
propaganda for the new regime. They gave me an office at SS headquarters and
I’ve been writing reports, doing errands, which include some archaeological
work, you know, looking for evidence of the Aryan forefathers. All a lot of
rubbish, really.’ He felt sour now, saying it out loud, and he didn’t like the
look in his friend’s eye. ‘Recently, my superiors received a letter from De
Mengel; apparently this Pierre Plantard knows something about a grimoire called
Le Serpent Rouge. The fact is, I’m supposed to find it so that Himmler can give
it to Hitler on his birthday.’

‘Well, burn my beard!’ La Dame said, rubbing
it absently. ‘A grimoire? Isn’t that a book of black magic? What sort of
nut-bags are you working for?’

Rahn drank a good mouthful of brandy and
wondered what La Dame would say if he knew about Wewelsburg. ‘Nuttier than
anyone gives them credit for, I’m afraid.’

‘And you’re working for them!’

‘Look, a man has to eat, La Dame!’ he said,
suddenly defensive. ‘You, a man of means, have no idea how cold it gets in
winter without heating, nor how difficult it is to walk in the snow when your
shoes are full of holes. It’s not comfortable, let me assure you! Do you see
how I look? I’ve been under the weather and the weather has been rather
appalling. Besides, if you think that I could have said no to Himmler to his face,
well, you are sorely mistaken! By now I’d be buried under a mound of rubble at

La Dame turned sombre and looked at Rahn with
unfocused, gloomy eyes. ‘Well, you do realise, Rahn, that you have fulfilled
the prophecy of the locals at Ussat-les-Bains – they always said you were
working for the Nazis.’

Rahn stared out to the street slashed by rain:
the traffic was busy and the streetlights came on. He sighed. ‘I’m not working
for the Nazis. I’m working for myself.’

‘Oh, yes, I forgot your first rule: you always
work for yourself.’

‘Look,’ Rahn said, ignoring his obvious
reproof. ‘All I wanted was enough money in my pocket to continue our search for
the Cathar treasure.’

‘What about this Le Serpent Rouge, then?’

‘I’m undecided; perhaps now that I’m in France
I’ll just disappear in the mountains and hope that sooner or later Himmler will
forget about me.’

‘I don’t know about that! He sounds like the
type to hold a grudge, if you know what I mean. So, you’re not going to see
Plantard tomorrow?’

‘Well, I’m a little curious about it, and my
train doesn’t leave until the afternoon.’

‘It all sounds rather diabolical to me.’ La
Dame threw the last of his brandy down his throat, exemplifying how much he
needed it.

Rahn tipped his brandy in La Dame’s direction
before he drank it down. ‘I’ll be the Faust of my generation and you can be my

‘Doctor, to walk with you is ever an honour
and a profit, and yet . . . to aid and abet your work for the Devil would, I’m
afraid, lead me astray. Facilis descensus Averni and all that! It is far too
easy to enter Hell, but getting out is another matter entirely. I’m afraid I’m
of rather a different constitution to you.’ He poured more brandy into their

Rahn looked at it appreciatively; his head was
swimming and the room was agreeably blurred. ‘Remember that night in that
Czechoslovakian pub? You vowed to be Sancho Panza to my Don Quixote . . . and
that means you don’t believe in devils, nor in Hell, because Sancho, the dear
man, was a materialist!’ He lifted the glass and took a swig.

La Dame nodded. ‘Like Sancho Panza, I may not
believe but I don’t discount the power of belief. Haven’t you heard of those
Indians in America who go off to a mountain to die? They may be lunatics but
they always die because they believe they will; that is the trouble with lunacy
– sometimes your illusions can turn out to be real because you believe in

Rahn said, ‘The Countess P always said she
would know the day of her death. Now there is a regal woman, a true descendant
of the Cathars! She hasn’t returned any of my letters, you know. I think she’s
mad at me because of the way I left France. I’m hoping to see her while I’m
here; perhaps she and I can go to the caves at Ornolac again in the Tourster,
if she’s feeling up to it. Do you remember how much she loved those caves?’

‘You don’t know, Rahn? Didn’t Deodat get a
hold of you?’ La Dame said, all frowns.

‘What are you talking about?’

‘Bad news, I’m afraid.’ He paused, trying to
construct the words.

‘Come out with it, La Dame.’

‘The Countess P passed away about two months
ago. The magistrate was looking for you . . . I assumed you knew.’

Rahn’s heart sank. ‘The last time I saw Deodat
was three years ago, after we returned from the caves at Lombrives. I left
France shortly after that. Two months, you say?’

‘She had a stroke.’

‘I can’t believe it.’

‘Well, the old buzz— I mean, the grand
madame, was right about knowing when she was going to die. Apparently Deodat
made a visit a week or so before the fatal day. She seemed perfectly well, in
top form, enjoying the best of health, but she told him she had ordered a
coffin because she had a sense she was going to meet her maker.’ He fixed Rahn
with a significant look. ‘A week later she was cold and in the ground, just
like that! You see what a devil of a thing belief is? It can kill you!’

But Rahn wasn’t listening. He was recalling
the last time he had seen the Countess. She had been standing, a tall figure
dressed in yellow, in front of her old château in Toulouse, with its broken
shutters and half-cracked pots brimming with flowers. Her voluminous hair
framing a face still beautiful and unlined, her intelligent eyes half closed
from the glare, and her mouth upturned in a smile that belied her sadness. She
had not waved goodbye, nor had she said the words. She had always expected that
he would return.

‘Apparently she left something for you,’ La
Dame said, breaking into his thoughts.


‘A box. Don’t ask me what’s in it, nobody
knows. Apparently it’s sealed – the instructions were that you alone
should open it. She was always a mysterious old crone. Do you remember those
séances? And her eyes; I swear she was strange! Not to mention all that talk
about being the reincarnation of Esclarmonde de Foix!’

‘I believed it,’ Rahn said, feeling miserable.
‘She could have been that great Cathar dame, the guardian of the Cathar Grail.’

‘I don’t know about the Grail but I can
imagine the Countess P giving the Inquisitors a run for their money.’

‘Let’s make a toast to our friend.’ Rahn
raised his glass. ‘To the Countess P!’

‘To the old buzzard, may she rest in peace!’

Rahn shot him a glance and La Dame shrugged.
‘I mean it in the most affectionate way.’

They drank in silence, contemplating
mortality. The café began to fill. Its interior grew noisy and full of smoke.
Rahn turned to look for the commonplace man. He had his back to them.

‘Well,’ Rahn said, slurring his words, ‘before
I disappear, I guess I’ll have to make a detour to Arques to see Deodat about
that box the Countess left me. After that I’ll go to Toulouse to pay my
respects to the Countess. It’s been good seeing you again, La Dame!’

‘Listen, you know I would love to come with
you, like old times,’ he said. ‘But all this business sounds, well, a tad on
the risky side. In your absence I’ve discovered something rather perturbing
about myself. I’ve found, to my great astonishment, that I’m quite fond of my
boring little life. Don’t look like that – it does have its advantages,
you know! I am a valued member of the faculty and so I don’t have to work too
hard; being a professor of scientific methodology is not as boring as you might
imagine; I get to pick and choose from an assortment of gorgeous young ladies
working in the campus . . . and there are even one or two students nowadays. I
have steady pay and an apartment not far from the Arc de Triomphe; I eat at Le
Bouillon at least once a month; and last but certainly not least, I can afford
to smoke Cuban cigars and drink a brandy that is better than passable. All
these things please me. Pitiful I know, shocking I’ll admit, but there it is:
I’m a boring coward!’

‘What happened to living in Morocco and
travelling on a slow boat to South America?’

‘Yes, but unfortunately there are realities
that one must take into account sooner or later – I abhor the heat and
have an aversion to water, and if that weren’t enough, my morbid fear of snakes
would not be well served in South America where, I’m told, one very often finds
snakes in one’s bed!’ He sighed a defeated sigh. ‘Besides, I have my children
to think of. How could I desert them?’

‘You don’t have children, La Dame.’

‘Not that I know of, of course, but one can
never be certain!’ The smile was wide behind that beard.

Rahn nodded. ‘Don’t worry. I’ve involved you
in this as far as I want to. I’ll call you if I need you to find out anything
else. You can be my man on the ground.’

‘So be it! I’m at your beck and call. Bravura
at a distance, that’s my style. But I’ll see you off at the station, at least.’

‘Only because you’re curious, La Dame!’

‘Yes, it’s a miracle, isn’t it, that curiosity
can survive a formal education.’

Rahn paid the bill and before they left the
café, he took a glance around for the man with the forgettable face. His table
was empty, a half-full glass and a cigarette paper the only evidence that he
had been there at all.

A Bird in the Hand
‘Never look for birds of this year in the nests of the last.’ Miguel de
Cervantes, Don Quixote

That night the desk clerk interrupted Rahn’s
dinner. There was a phone call for him and he decided to take it in his room.

He wondered if the call was from Weisthor and
how he could possibly know where he was staying, since he hadn’t called him
yet. Walking up the stairs, he considered what he would say to the man. Was
Weisthor part of that inner circle, one of Hitler’s ritters? There was no way
of knowing and so he decided to listen and say little.

In his room, Rahn picked up the receiver,
expecting to hear Weisthor’s rumbustious voice. Instead, the voice that greeted
him was French, polished and courteous.

‘Monsieur Rahn?’

Rahn paused. ‘I am he.’

‘I hope you are enjoying your stay in Paris?’

‘To whom am I speaking?’

‘This is just a courtesy call. We have a
mutual friend whom you met on the train.’

Rahn swallowed. ‘Yes, I remember him.’

‘He asked me to call and see how you are
getting on.’

‘Just fine, thank you.’

‘We know you have to . . . tie a few loose
ends before your journey to the south and we just wanted to wish you well. Will
you be keeping your appointment with Plantard tomorrow?’

Rahn hesitated. ‘I expect so.’

‘That is for the better, we think. It is
important to have the right information, you know, to understand the lay of the
land. Now, it may have occurred to you that you might just lose yourself in the
south. I would advise you to think again. You are not travelling light. Running
is quite difficult when you have a ball and chain attached to your legs.’

A ball and chain?

‘Soon you will be hearing from us again. In
the meantime we rely on you to follow your plans and to do what you do best. Just
one word of warning: keep a lookout for wolves.’

‘Who are you working for?’ Rahn asked.

There was a long silence, then: ‘The name is
on the card. I bid you a good night and a safe journey.’

Rahn put the phone down, his limbs drained of
blood. He had been followed, after all! He took out the card and read the name
– Serinus. Whoever these people were, they weren’t going to make it easy
for him to disappear. A ball and chain! Yes indeed, he was shown, once again,
that he was not free and he would have to make a decision. He sat on the bed
and loosened his tie, and wished that he had a brandy.

BOOK: The Sixth Key
6.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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