Authors: Michael Gilbert
Tags: #After the Fine Weather
After the Fine Weather
First published in 1963
© Estate of Michael Gilbert; House of Stratus 1963-2012
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.
The right of Michael Gilbert to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted.
This edition published in 2012 by House of Stratus, an imprint of
Stratus Books Ltd., Lisandra House, Fore Street, Looe,
Cornwall, PL13 1AD, UK.
Typeset by House of Stratus.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library and the Library of Congress.
| ||EAN|| ||ISBN|| ||Edition|| |
| ||0755105141|| ||9780755105144|| ||Print|| |
| ||0755131746|| ||9780755131747|| ||Kindle|| |
| ||0755132114|| ||9780755132119|| ||Epub|| |
This is a fictional work and all characters are drawn from the author’s imagination.
Any resemblance or similarities to persons either living or dead are entirely coincidental.
Born in Lincolnshire, England, Michael Francis Gilbert graduated in law from the University of London in 1937, shortly after which he first spent some time teaching at a prep-school which was followed by six years serving with the Royal Horse Artillery. During World War II he was captured following service in North Africa and Italy, and his prisoner-of-war experiences later leading to the writing of the acclaimed novel
‘Death in Captivity’
After the war, Gilbert worked as a solicitor in London, but his writing continued throughout his legal career and in addition to novels he wrote stage plays and scripts for radio and television. He is, however, best remembered for his novels, which have been described as witty and meticulously-plotted espionage and police procedural thrillers, but which exemplify realism.
HRF Keating stated that
was amongst the 100 best crime and mystery books ever published.
wrote Keating, “
is in every way as good as those of Agatha Christie at her best: as neatly dovetailed, as inherently complex yet retaining a decent credibility, and as full of cunningly-suggested red herrings.”
It featured Chief Inspector Hazlerigg, who went on to appear in later novels and short stories, and another series was built around Patrick Petrella, a London based police constable (later promoted) who was fluent in four languages and had a love for both poetry and fine wine. Other memorable characters around which Gilbert built stories included Calder and Behrens. They are elderly but quite amiable agents, who are nonetheless ruthless and prepared to take on tasks too much at the dirty end of the business for their younger colleagues. They are brought out of retirement periodically upon receiving a bank statement containing a code.
Much of Michael Gilbert’s writing was done on the train as he travelled from home to his office in London:
“I always take a latish train to work,” he explained in 1980, “and, of course, I go first class. I have no trouble in writing because I prepare a thorough synopsis beforehand.”.
After retirement from the law, however, he nevertheless continued and also reviewed for
‘The Daily Telegraph’
, as well as editing
‘The Oxford Book of Legal Anecdotes’
Gilbert was appointed CBE in 1980. Generally regarded as ‘one of the elder statesmen of the British crime writing fraternity, he was a founder-member of the British Crime Writers’ Association and in 1988 he was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, before receiving the Lifetime ‘Anthony’ Achievement award at the 1990 Boucheron in London.
Michael Gilbert died in 2006, aged ninety three, and was survived by his wife and their two sons and five daughters.
Lengberg is a compact village of red brick, red tile, and chestnut trees, dominated by the gaunt, yellowing prison built on its south-facing slope. It was from this prison that Albin Boschetto was released, at a quarter past eleven, on the morning of November 15.
Commandant Krimmer felt no regrets at Boschetto’s departure. He had held him for three years, and in his view three years was enough. Boschetto was an Italian from the South Tyrol, large for his race, not corpulent, but tall and thick. He had black hair which, when free of prison discipline, would grow down into greasy ringlets almost to his collar; light-grey eyes; and a jaw which had been broken and set so badly that the bottom half of his face seemed to belong to a different man.
In the Commandant’s view Boschetto was not entirely sane. He had said as much to Landesminister Drukl, who had visited the prison a month before and had shown interest in him and his record.
“A bad case of assault, Herr Landesminister. He held up a motorist, on the road to Villach, forced him at gunpoint to dismount, beat him on the head with the gun barrel, robbed him, kicked him, and left him for dead. I have a duplicate of the record if you would care to see it.”
“I would rather see the prisoner,” said the Landesminister.
They had walked together across the interior court, where privileged prisoners were tending the flower beds, and into the inner keep. Here it was dark and cold, and their feet fell softly on the fibre matting laid over the stone and iron-grated floor.
The Commandant slid back the shutter in the door. That part of the prison had been cut into the hillside.
The cells received a ration of daylight and air, by a shaft, from above, but a light burned all day behind a thick glass set high in the ceiling.
Albin Boschetto sat on his bed. He was staring at the wall opposite him. He did not look happy. Nor did he look unhappy. He looked like an uncomplicated piece of machinery which has been laid, for the moment, to one side.
The Commandant felt Drukl shudder. “Yes, it is cold in here,” he said. “You feel the difference, after the sunlight. Let us go back to the office.”
“Does he always sit like that?”
“Oh, no. He has different moods. Sometimes he sings.”
“Marching songs. He was in a battalion with other Tyrolese during the war. At times he – well, he has habits that are less pleasant.” He looked doubtfully at Drukl, and then decided that the dapper little man at his side, with the small, neat feet and the wispy beard, who had under his control all the prisons and prison officers in the Lienz district, must by now know something of the effects of prolonged imprisonment on simple men.
“To be specific…” he began.
Drukl listened to the recital impassively. Then he said, “They are a primitive race, the men from the High Tyrol. Unsuited to captivity. In my view there was something to be said for the old methods with such people. Liquidation might be kinder than incarceration.”
Krimmer jerked his head up sharply. The Landesminister smiled at the look on his face. “I speak, of course, as a private person,” he said, “not as a minister. He will be released – when?”
“On November fifteenth.”
“Would you make a point of seeing, please, that all preliminaries are completed in good time, and that he is released at fifteen minutes past eleven.”
“At exactly eleven-fifteen. It is not my request. I pass it on to you from its originator, Colonel Schatzmann.”
Krimmer’s face lost all outward expression. He said, in a carefully modulated voice, “Very well, Herr Landesminister. I will see that it is done.”
And so at nine o’clock on November 15 Boschetto was led to the shower bath. His prison uniform was taken from him, and the clothes in which he had been arrested were returned to him, together with a pile of his possessions, which he checked and for which he scrawled some sort of receipt. The sum of four hundred and fifty Austrian schillings, which he had earned in prison, was handed to him. By eleven o’clock his documentation was completed, and the chief warder led him to the gatehouse. At eleven-fifteen the wicket gate opened and Boschetto stepped out onto the white dusty road.
He stood for a few moments, blinking and swinging his head from side to side. It was a lovely morning of high autumn. The fields were a patchwork of brown stubble and turned earth. The vineyards stood stripped and tidy. A frame of mist hung along the mountain, marking the limit of the early snow.
Albin Boschetto stumped off down the road toward Lengberg. In the distance a Volkswagen started up fussily and moved down a track toward the road. It was driven by a stout man in a dark-blue suit, who could not have been in a hurry, since he waited for quite five minutes before turning the nose of his car to the right and cruising down toward the roofs of Lengberg.
Boschetto was seated on a low wall at the crossroad outside the village, beside the halt sign for the Post Bus. He seemed indifferent to delay and content to relax in the sunshine. The only part of him that moved was his tongue. Every few minutes it came out, licked round his lips, then took fright and disappeared. His big hands hung motionless by his side. Two boys, on their way home to lunch from school, came to the conclusion that he was worth a second look. They stopped to stare. Boschetto stooped, picked up a stone, and threw it with speed and precision. The boys scampered off down the road. Boschetto did not trouble to look after them. But the episode had broken his reverie. He fumbled in his pocket, got out a packet of cigarettes, and lit one.
The Volkswagen fussed through the village and passed Boschetto without stopping, the driver intent only on the road. Behind the car rolled the great yellow-and-silver Post Bus. Boschetto climbed aboard.
Half an hour later he dismounted in the main square at Lienz. By this time the Volkswagen was tucked into a line of cars on the other side of the square. Boschetto did not see it. Shouldering his pack, he strode out of the square toward the lower town. He walked straight ahead, paying no heed to other pedestrians. The pavement was crowded, and more than once a collision seemed imminent, but on each occasion it was the other man who stepped aside.
A hundred yards from the railway station he turned into a smaller road, walked quickly up it, crossed a footbridge over one of the branch lines, and turned into the road running parallel with it. It was one of the least agreeable quarters in the town, a district of railway workshops, dirty cafés, drinking cellars, and brothels. Boschetto walked without a glance to right or left, though many eyes observed him, over raised glasses, through smeary windows, from behind lace curtains.
Near the end of the road, chipped white letters on a plate-glass window spelled out “Franzkeller”. A step down led into the single front room. It smelled like the inside of a wine cask.
The thin man sitting behind the table jumped to his feet.
“Albin! I heard you were coming out today. Come in. Sit down. A drink?”
“In the kitchen. It was she who heard you were coming out.” He was pouring wine into a glass as he spoke.
Boschetto put his pack carefully on the table, drank half the wine, and set the glass down beside the pack, then turned on his heel without a word, padded across the floor, and flung open the door.
There was a tiny scream from inside, though whether of joy or alarm it was hard to say. The door slammed shut. Ernst sat listening, his lips drawn back in a set smile. He heard the low rumble of Boschetto’s bass and the higher notes of Clara, shrill with excitement and laughter. After a few minutes he heard the farther door, leading from the kitchen to the bedroom, open and then shut, cutting off the voices.
Ernst finished his own glass of wine. Then, since it seemed intelligent to assume that his meal might be some time in coming, he emptied the half glass left by Boschetto. He was a careful man, who abhorred waste.
Next, he wandered across to the telephone that stood on a shelf behind the counter. It was coin operated, and the box was heavily padlocked. Ernst turned his attention to the till, sliding the drawer open half an inch and plunging his finger in to hold down the bell before opening it entirely. He extracted the schilling pieces that he wanted for the telephone and closed the drawer. Then he inserted the coins and dialled a number.
All his movements were gentle, and his brown eyes were soft as a spaniel’s.
A female voice at the other end said something. Ernst asked for an extension number. A male voice growled.
“Ernst Radmacher. I am speaking from the Franzkeller Bar in Spargasse. Boschetto has arrived.”
The voice said, “Yes.”
Ernst said, “He is clearly very hungry. I should suppose that it will be some hours before his appetite is satisfied.”
“Have you any further instructions for me?”
There was a pause, and then the voice said, “No,” and there was a click as the receiver was replaced. Ernst sat for a moment rubbing his ear. It was almost as if he had been cuffed.
Colonel Julius Schatzmann, known, though not to his face, as the Grey Bear, stood behind his desk. Seventy-six inches separated his hair, which was cut short and en brosse, from his well-polished shoes. He was thick. His nose was thick, his lips were thick, and his neck was thick. A thick trunk was supported on thick thighs. He had button-bright eyes and a mischievous smile. The bear is one of the few animals known to have a sense of humour. Colonel Julius Schatzmann had a sense of humour. During his adventurous life he had found himself able to laugh at everything, even at his own discomfiture.
“Had I not been able to laugh,” he said to his subordinate, Major Osler, “I should long ago have been dead. I laughed my way through the war, in the ranks of the SS, and I rose to be Feldwebel. I laughed at the occupying forces, with their tribunals and commissions, and they all left me alone. If you laugh at an American, he likes you. If you laugh at an Englishman, he respects you. If you laugh at a Frenchman, he hates you – but he too leaves you alone. Once – but only once – I remember, I laughed at Himmler.”
“Not many people laughed at Himmler,” said Major Osler.
“Not many. Now, to business, gentlemen. The Minister arrives by road from Vienna at seven o’clock this evening. I have, as you know, cancelled all leave, withdrawn sleeping-out permits, and some weeks ago I made preliminary arrangements, which I trust are now well advanced, for calling out the auxiliary police.”
“The arrangements are complete, sir. The men report to their depots tonight.”
“Good. The parade is timed for eleven-thirty tomorrow. From nine o’clock all roads out of the town come under traffic control. Arranged, Inspector Biedermann?”
“To last until when?”
“My orders are that control shall continue until cancelled by you.”
“Very well. The approaches to the square are to be manned at ten-thirty. To do it sooner would interfere unduly with the town traffic. Nevertheless, it gives you only an hour to complete your cordon, Inspector Moll.”
“An hour will be sufficient,” said Inspector Moll. “It has been carefully rehearsed.”
“I hope,” said the Colonel, “that everything has been carefully rehearsed. The safety of a minister of state and a cardinal bishop is not a matter to be taken lightly. You all know the difficulties we have had with Italian troublemakers from the South Tyrol. I need hardly say that we want no incidents tomorrow. Not only the safety of the eminent persons but the honour of Lienz is in your hands.” The thick lips parted in a smile. “I am certain it will be safe with you.”
It was four o’clock before the door of the Franzkeller opened and Boschetto came out into the street. The grim mood of the morning was gone. The thick lips were parted in a smile. As he walked along the pavement he met and nodded to one or two acquaintances, who nodded cautiously in return.
In front of the post office in the main square he boarded the bus for Glaren, catching it as it was on the point of moving and booking a ticket to the terminus.
It is a forty-minute run from Lienz to Glaren, and Boschetto sat, his nose glued to the window, watching the mountains rising, high on both sides of the twisting road, but higher on the left than on the right as they approached the Italian border.
These were the Lienz Dolomites, the most beautiful but not the least formidable of the mountain ranges of Central Europe, looking their best that autumn afternoon. It was a landscape arranged vertically in four strips, each as sharply different as the colours on a hatband. First the hayfields, green after their last careful mowing, laced with little silver streams; above the pastures, the woodland, birch and pine and fir; above the woodlands, the rough uncultivated slopes, traversed by paths zigzagging between boulders and outcrop, seamed with ravines, a desolate buffer state; above that, the first snow of winter.
At the halt before Glaren, Boschetto got out, waiting beside the road until the bus had roared away, round a bend and out of sight. For the first time since he had left Lengberg prison that morning, a certain wariness seemed to have gripped him. He sat hunched on the bank beside the road and let three or four cars go by before hoisting himself to his feet and stepping up the track which left the road at this point and slanted up through orchard and pasture to the edge of the wood.
Once in the wood his movements became even more cautious. After a few yards he left the path and worked his way back through the undergrowth until he had reached a point where he could peer back down into the valley.
Below him, following side by side each twist in the valley floor, ran road, railway, and river. Ten miles ahead he could see the final twist in the valley where a shoulder of rock masked the road to Cortina and the Italian frontier.
He turned his attention to things nearer at hand: to the three men on bicycles who were pedalling laboriously up the road; to the two boys who were meant to be watching the cows in the meadow but were more intent on a small fire of sticks which they had built; to a man chopping wood on the edge of the woods immediately across the lateral valley ahead of him, the swing of his axe, the pause before the “clunk” followed in the still air.