A private-eye is puzzled. Then he investigates.
I was reading the advertisements columns in The Times and came across a curious ad.
£50,000 TO THE PERSON WHO WILL KILL ME Call Mayfair 6631
I sensed there may be a good story behind the ad and called the number.
After a few seconds a man answered the phone: "Mr Shultz's residence."
"I am calling about the ad in the Times," I said.
"Who shall I say is calling?"
"Digby, Roger Digby."
"Just a minute, Sir."
After a minute or so, I heard the same voice saying, "Mr Digby, please come to 11, The Colonnade, Mayfair, at six o'clock tonight."
"Who shall I ask for?"
"Just state your name and I will let you in."
There isn't a lot of money to be made when you are a private dick and fifty big ones would have been the answer to my prayers.
At six o'clock precisely, I rung the doorbell of 11 The Colonnade, which was an elegant multi-storey Georgian house surrounded by other elegant Georgian houses and after a few seconds the door opened by a man dressed like a butler who looked at me and said, "Yes?".
"Digby," I said. "Remember me?" The door opened wider and the butler said: "Come in, Mr Digby. Mr Schultz is expecting you."
He led me to a door at the far end of the hall, opened it, announced me and I entered the room.
My first take of the room was of Schultz sitting behind a desk, a life-sized marble head of a woman, executed in the classical style, on a round pedestal, and of a large framed painting on the wall of some blue flowers.
Schultz pointed to an armchair and said: "Please sit down." I obeyed. Then he said: "Mr Digby, let's not waste time on formalities. Time is the most precious commodity on earth." He spoke with a strong German accent. His face was disfigured by a scar running from his left earlobe to the corner of his mouth. I thought it was a wound caused either by duelling or by shrapnel.
There was a knock on the door and without waiting for a response a young woman entered and looked at Schultz. "Would you like a drink?" asked Schultz looking at me. "Could I have a gin and tonic?" I said.
Schultz nodded and turning to the young woman he said: "A gin and tonic for our guest and a cognac for me." The woman left the room without saying anything and Schultz turned his head towards me, his eyes focusing on my face. He didn't blink and his gaze was intense, as if x-raying my brain.
"Tell me about yourself." he said.
"What would you like to know?" I asked.
"Mr Digby," he said, "we are in the process of considering a very delicate transaction. I want to know as much about you as is possible."
At this point the same young woman entered with the two drinks on a silver tray. She put my drink on a small round table by my chair and as she did so, I noticed a coloured tattoo of blue flowers on her left wrist. The flowers were encircled by some small letters. She then gave the cognac to Schultz and he said: "Thank you, Margit."
"Well," I said, after the woman left the room, "I am thirty-five years old, and a licensed private investigator. Have never been in trouble with the law. Never killed anyone but times are hard and if we are talking about a mercy killing..."
I spoke about myself for about five minutes. Schultz never shifted his eyes off my face. He didn't even blink. His intense gaze was beginning to get on my nerves. Perhaps that was his intention all along. When I finished telling him about myself, he continued looking at my face silently for what seemed ages then he said: "Mr Digby, I am a pretty good judge of character. I can also tell when someone is lying to me. I think you told me the truth about yourself. Let me now tell you about myself."
"I was serving in the Wehrmacht when the war broke out," said Schultz. "I saw action in Poland and later in eastern Russia, where in the course of a special operation, I was badly wounded. I was flown back to Berlin and after making a full recovery, I was promoted in rank and transferred to Otto Skorzeny's special commando unit. I was with him in Italy in 1943, when we liberated Mussolini from his Italian captors, and with him again in October 1944, when we kidnapped the Hungarian regent's son, whom we suspected of negotiating a separate armistice with the Russians."
Schultz fell silent. His eyes were open but he didn't appear to be focusing on anything in the room. Then after a few seconds he recovered his composure and said to me: "Mr Digby, would you like another drink?" I asked for a gin and tonic again and he pressed a button on the desk. The woman with the coloured tattoo entered the room and he said to her, "Margit dear, we will have the same again."
After 'Margit dear' closed the door behind her, Schultz looked at me and said: "A most unfortunate, tragic case. Soon after birth she caught meningitis but was misdiagnosed and given the wrong treatment. This was at a time when I lived in Argentina. Her mother was a dear, very dear, friend of mine. The child recovered from meningitis but lost the ability to speak. She can hear all right and is a very intelligent woman but losing her ability to speak will blight her life for ever."
I couldn't think of anything to say and remained silent. When Margit re-entered the room and handed me my drink, I said, "Thank you," and gave her a friendly smile. She smiled back and I noticed that her blue eyes matched the colour of the flower in the tattoo on her wrist. After Margit left us, Schultz took a sip of his cognac and said: "Where was I? Oh yes, Hungary. Skorzeny was recalled to Germany. he was needed for an important counter-offensive in the Ardennes. I was left in charge of the remaining seven members of the commando unit in Budapest. The Fuhrer declared Budapest a Citadel City, which meant that it had to be defended at all cost and to the last drop of blood. But it was a hopeless task. The Red Army could not be stopped and by December it was on the outskirts of eastern Budapest.
"I gathered my men and put it to them that we had two options, stay and fight to the death, or disobey the Fuhrer's order and desert. By then we all new that the war was lost. We took a vote and all eight of us voted to fight on with the remaining German forces supported by the Hungarian fascists as long as there was any chance of halting the Russian advance but to desert rather than be killed or captured by the Russians."
Every now and then Schultz took a sip of his cognac and I could see that he was re-living his story while he was telling it to me.
"By the twentieth of December the city was almost completely surrounded," he continued. "A narrow corridor to Austria was still open but it was only a matter of days before it would be blocked by the Russians. In Budapest itself incoming artillery shells were a regular feature of daily life. On the streets, corpses of people and of animals were a common sight. Public transport no longer existed. It was time to act. We realized that to survive on the run for the duration of the war we needed funds ... and I knew where to get them.
"The National Bank of Hungary was in down-town Pest," continued Schultz. "It was being guarded by a detachment of Hungarian paramilitary fascists, the Arrow-cross. They were a worse bunch of people than the scum of the earth even when they were sober, which wasn't often. We drew up in a military vehicle and informed them that we were taking over the defence of the bank by the order of the German High Command. As soon as they were out of sight, we broke into the bank and blew open the vaults in the basement. What we found there was beyond our wildest dreams. There were fifty wooden crates each containing 40 one-kilo bars of gold. Apparently they were to be shipped to the Reichsbank in Berlin but must have been left behind in the chaos created by the rapid advance of the Red Army. We also found a large quantity of U.S. dollars and loaded the gold and the currency onto an army track and drove out of Budapest in the direction of the Austrian border.
"The roads were clogged with civilians fleeing Hungary and by German military traffic, some coming and some going. We reached Graz in Austria after midnight. My men were keen to make their way to their families in Germany. The exception was Karl Hoffner. Karl was like a brother to me. The two of us have been through a lot together and the bond between us was as strong as between blood brothers. I divided the dollars equally between the eight of us and we all wished each other good luck. Karl decided to stay with me.
"My plan was to reach Zurich in Switzerland and sit out the war there. When we reached Innsbruck we bought a civilian truck, transferred the fifty crates of gold, hid them under cases of wine and discarded our uniforms.
"When we eventually reached the Swiss border, we bribed the border guards with some cases of wine. The rest of the journey to Zurich was uneventful. We opened two bank accounts at the Strasser Privatbank in Zurich and deposited all the gold, one-thousand bars in Karl's account and the same in my account. We instructed the bank that all transactions and communications from us regarding our accounts must be validated by the anonymous account numbers as well as by a password of our respective choosing. What was left of the US dollars, about twenty-four thousand or so, which was a very substantial sum in those days, Karl and I divided equally between us.
"The war ended in May and Karl decided to go back to Germany to find out what became of his elderly mother who lived in Leipzig, which was under Russian control. I never saw him or heard from him again.
"I emigrated to Argentina, where after the war there was a large German community, and invested some of my gold in a copper mine. Things went well until one day I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I came to London for treatment but the cancer metastasized into the bone. Prostate cancer is a slow killer but eventually it gets you.
"A few years ago, I took out a very substantial multi-million pound life cover on my life. The policy excludes death by suicide. Six months ago my medical consultant gave me about twelve more months to live. If I have to depart this earth, I'd rather go a little sooner and leave the insurance money to the few people I love and care about."
Schultz came to the end of his story and we sat there looking at each other. I am not a sentimental person and was surprised by the mixed emotions which were going through me. Eventually, my practical sense rose to the top and I said to Schultz: "Assuming I went ahead with your scheme, either directly or indirectly, how do you propose to pay me?"
"I still have fifty-thousand pounds in my Swiss account," he said. "I would give you a signed letter of authority instructing the bank to pay you fifty-thousand pounds. The letter would include the account number but not the password."
"And how would I get the password?" I asked.
"Mr Digby, I am a honourable man. I've been honest with you. Perhaps even more honest than I should have been. You must accept my word that the password will be handed over to you by someone I trust. It's a risk you will have to take."
I said nothing. Seconds went by, perhaps minutes. Eventually, Schultz broke the silence.
"You will understand, I'm sure, that time is of essence. I'll give you three days to make up your mind. If I don't hear from you by the end of the third day, I will assume you are not interested."
* * *
By the time I got back to my apartment my mind was made up. First, I am not a murderer and had no intention of spending the rest of my life behind bars. Second, any involvement with this case could result in charges of being an accessory to murder. Third, to top it all, it was questionable if I would be paid. "No," I said to myself, "Forget it."
The following week, I boarded a plane to Sydney. The trip was half business and half pleasure. I was staying in Avalon, north of Sydney, and forgot all about Schultz.
But as it subsequently transpired, forgetting about Schultz was probably the biggest mistake I had ever made.
Two weeks later, I arrived back to Heathrow Airport, London, and after picking my suitcase off the carousel and clearing customs, I bought a paper and headed for the nearest taxi rank. When I was settled in the taxi and had given the cabby directions to my address, my eyes fell on the bold headline in the paper on my lap:
POLICE STILL BUFFLED BY THE SCHULTZ MURDER
£5,000 Reward for information leading to conviction
"What's the story about this Schultz murder?" I asked the cabby in the best faked casual tone I could manage.
"Oh," he said, "the guy was shot in the head lying in his bed The door was locked from the inside ... key was still in the lock ... no gun was found anywhere."
"When did this happen?" I asked.
"About a week ago."
When I got into my apartment, I threw my suitcase onto the bed and poured myself a drink. Then I sat down, closed my eyes, and thought about Schultz for a long time ... and about the £5,000 reward offered by the police. Then I walked into the hall where my telephone was and made two calls.
My first call was to Swiss Air to book a seat on the early morning shuttle to Zurich. My second call was to Hotel Marriott in Zurich to book a room.
Next morning my flight to Zurich departed and arrived as punctually as the Swiss watch on my wrist. At the Marriott, after inspecting my room and tipping the bellboy, I went back to the registration desk and asked the clerk which of the two local branches of Bank Strasser was the head-office.
The taxi ride to the bank was short. In fact, I could easily have walked there. The young woman behind the bank's reception desk greeted me with a smile and some words in German, which I didn't understand.
"Do you speak English?" I asked her.
"Yes Sir. How can I help you?"
"I would like to speak to someone in authority about a numbered account."
"May I have your name, Sir."
"Digby," I said, " Roger Digby," and gave her my business card.
She led me into a small, private waiting room and said, "Mr Konig will see you shortly." She then closed the door behind her and left me there.
After about two or three minutes a young man entered the room holding my business card. He introduced himself, sat down and said, "How can I help you, Mr Digby?"
"Mr Konig, I'm here to obtain some information about a recently deceased customer of the bank."
"Sir, you must be aware that this is a private bank and that we never divulge information about our account holders."
"This is different." I said, "He is no longer an account holder, he is dead, murdered."
"Murdered?" asked Konig.
"Yes, Mr Konig. Murdered and there is a big reward for information leading to the arrest of the murderer."
"I am afraid giving out information about any living or dead account holder is above my pay-grade. I could lose my job here."
"Is there anyone here who has, or might have, the authority to deal with an investigation which has the potential of linking this bank with murder?" I asked.
"I will talk to Mr Von Greyertz and ask him to see you," said Konig. "But I am sure he will only repeat what I had already told you."
After about three minutes a large man with gold-rimmed glasses entered the room with Konig in tow.
"Mr Digby," he said, "How is the alleged death of a client of ours involve the bank?"
"I cannot answer that yet," I said, "but there is a good chance it might."
"Sir," said Von Greyertz "We are an old-established and honourable private bank. We operate within this country's banking laws. We have nothing to hide."
"Except your customers' identities?"
Von Greyertz looked at me with disdain and then said in a very measured tone: "I am very sorry I cannot be more helpful." Then turning to Konig he said: "Please escort Mr Digby to the front entrance. He is leaving."
On the way out, Konig said to me in a low voice: "Where are you staying?"
"At the Marriott. Why?"
"Meet me in the Hotel's bar tonight at eight."
* * *
I entered the bar of the hotel at ten to eight. Konig wasn't there yet. I ordered a gin and tonic and sat down at a table, on a chair facing the entrance to the bar. I spotted Konig as soon as he entered the bar and waved to him. He was wrapped in a large overcoat with upturned collar and wearing dark glasses. When he sat down beside me, I asked him if I could get him a drink but he declined it.
"Well," I said, "what is it you want to talk about?"
"I shouldn't really be here talking to you," he said.
"But you are here," I said.
"You mentioned a big reward for information."
"Yeah," I said. "Five thousand pounds."
"What's in it for me if I can help you?"
"Look," I said, "I'm a practical man. Unless I can provide the police with relevant information, I get nothing. I reckon half of five thousand is better than nothing."
"Are saying you would split the reward with me?"
"Precisely that," I said. I passed him a 100 franc note and said: "Take this as an advance payment, a gesture of goodwill if you like. It is yours regardless of whether we get the reward or not."
"Well," he said, "someone did turn up last week with a letter instructing the bank to pay the bearer of the letter 50,000 pounds. The letter was signed by a Mr Schultz and witnessed by an attorney and it included the account number. But because of the large sum involved, I had to call the chief clerk, Mr Von Greyertz, whom you have met this morning."
"Can you describe the man who presented the letter?" I asked.
"Mr Digby, it wasn't a man ... it was a woman."
"Oh," I said, "What happened next?"
"I put her in the private waiting room and went to see Mr Von Greyertz. He examined the letter very carefully, then he consulted one of the clients ledgers, then he compared the signature with our file copy and then he said to me: "There's something wrong here," but he didn't tell me what was wrong. Then we both went back to the waiting room and Mr Von Greyertz said to the woman: "Madam, I am afraid this letter is insufficient to release any payment. The account password is not included in the letter. And without the password, we cannot release the funds."
"What was the woman's response?" I asked.
"Well, this is the strangest thing. She said nothing. She took off one of her gloves and placed her hand on the desk and displayed her wrist. It showed a coloured tattoo of a flower surrounded by letters. Both Mr Von Greyertz and I were quite taken aback. Eventually, Mr Von Greyertz leaned over the woman's hand and examined the tattoo carefully for a long time, perhaps for a minute or so. Then he turned to me and said: "Mr Konig, please pay this lady 50,000 pounds in cash." I was quite astonished."
"Could you read the letters in the tattoo?" I asked.
He shook his head and said: "No. I couldn't make them out at all. The letters encircled the flower evenly and there were no punctuation marks. The only thing which made a strong impression on me was the beautiful blue flower of the tattoo , a flower native to Switzerland."
"What was the flower?" I asked.
He looked at me and said: "Forget-me-not."
~ ~ ~THE END ~ ~ ~