Drumbeat - Dominique
Drumbeat - Dominique
F OR A GUY who once held down the number two spot in the protocol section of the State Department, Jack Morley had come a long way-all of it in the wrong direction.
I walked right past his table on the terrace of the Café Rotonde a couple of times without recognizing him. What I saw was a shabby drunk who needed a shave, a haircut and, chances were, a bath. He was wearing what looked like somebody's cast-off safari jacket. It was a couple of sizes too big for Jack and made his neck look like a rooster's. You couldn't blame me for not recognizing him. The last time I'd laid eyes on Jack Morley had been a couple of years ago in Washington. Handshaking a pair of Middle Eastern diplomats into Blair House, he'd been turned out in his usual go-to-meeting outfit-camel's hair topcoat, white silk scarf, dark worsted suit and Homburg. He resembled then everybody's idea of what the boy voted most-likely-to-succeed at Harvard turned into ten years later.
Any resemblance between that Jack Morley and the drunk trying his best not to knock over the table while he got a glass of pernod to his mouth outside the Café Rotonde on Boulevard Montpamasse in Paris was purely coincidental.
I got a table near the lottery booth, ordered a drink and looked across Boulevard Raspail to the traffic island, where Rodin's statue of Balzac, considered obscene even by the French until they gave the bronze old man a bronze cloak, was now half-hidden by the branches of a chestnut tree. I looked at my watch. It was a quarter to eight of a warm evening, and Jack Morley already was fifteen minutes late. I decided to give him until I finished my whiskey-and-water, and then go up to the Raspail Vert for some bouillabaisse.
If it had worked out that way, none of this would have happened the way it did. But as I asked the waiter for my check a big and not quite frowzy-looking blonde drifted over to my table, jerked a thumb in the direction of the shabby drunk and asked in an accent that was British but not BBC: "He wants to know are you Mr. Drum."
I looked where she was pointing and still failed to recognize Jack. I glanced back at the blonde. She was big without being fat, with a Devon milkmaid's overabundant figure, rosy cheeks and china-blue eyes. Her streaky blonde hair was long and combed in no particular fashion or maybe not combed at all. Her mouth was a sullen red pout.
"I'm Drum," I admitted. "Who's your friend?" She had been sitting with the shabby drunk.
"He's your old friend Jack Morley," she said, somewhat indignantly. "Who else might he be?"
I went over to Jack's table. The waiter brought a third chair.
"Chet, you old son of a gun," Jack Morley said. His eyes were bloodshot and seemed oddly vulnerable without the dark, shell-rimmed glasses. But his grin, finally, was the same. He stuck out a moist hand. I could feel a tremor in the fingers when I shook it and his head was shaking too, slightly, on the scrawny neck.
Only a banality could have covered my shock over how much Jack Morley had changed. "Long time no see," I said.
"God, it's good to see you. Have a drink?" The waiter took our orders. "I wrote you as soon as I read in the Paris Trib you were opening an office in Geneva. Going international, huh?" he said, a shade enviously. "Trying to put the Pinkertons out of business?"
"More and more of my cases take me to Europe. I decided I might as well have a place to hang my hat."
"One man office?"
"I got a guy who holds the fort for me in Washington while I'm here, and vice versa." I said that uneasily. I had the notion that Jack was going to ask me for a job, and while I would have snapped up the old Jack Morley as a partner, the Jack Morley sitting on the café terrace with me was another matter.
He must have sensed my uneasiness, because he, said: "I'm still with the government, you know."