A CREW of workmen were busy sliding lightweight plastic walls into place and fussing with glass brick space-dividers when I stepped off the elevator. In spotless white coveralls and blue or black berets, they looked more like beatnik surgeons than construction stiffs. They worked neatly, cleanly, quietly and efficiently. Why shouldn't they? After all, this was Switzerland.
Half a dozen pale and narrow-shouldered specimens were hunched over drafting tables drawing graphs; they ignored my arrival the way only mathematicians or professional gamblers can. They were not professional gamblers. One of them was busy feeding data cards into a small computer that lit up like a pinball machine.
I went past them to the one finished inner wall of the suite. In the middle of it was a door that looked like a giant playing card, with the letter A and a spade in the upper left- and lower right-hand corners. In the middle of the door, in plain black lettering against the dazzling white playing-card surface, was the name A XEL S PADE. Under that, in French, German and English, were three words, all meaning the same thing: Conseil-Ratschlag-Advice.
Axel Spade did not give advice to the lovelorn. He did not give advice on the market, or on snow conditions in the ski resorts across the border in French High Savoy, or on what number to call if you wanted a tooth pulled or a suit made to measure or an artful roll in the hay. He had an office on Wall Street in New York, in addition to this one here on Rue du Rhône in Geneva, and you bought his time, if you could afford it, at a cool hundred bucks or four hundred thirty Swiss francs per half hour. Since that is my going rate per day, when I'm working, I was impressed. I was even more impressed by the sort of advice Axel Spade gave.
Axel Spade gave finanacial advise to smugglers and international criminals.
The playing-card door opened out toward me just as I was reaching for the knob, and I stepped aside to let a woman pass. The men at the drafting tables looked up from their graph paper, the workmen removed their berets, shuffling their feet and gawking, and even the computer seemed to light up brighter than before.
She was a tall and poised number in a breast- and hip-hugging cornflower-blue suit that exactly matched the color of her big and beautiful eyes. A silver mink was draped casually over one arm. Her titian-colored hair was thick and long, spilling in gentle waves halfway down her back. She wore a fluff of silk at her throat, the same color as her hair. The titian hair, the poise, the wry but sultry smile on her full red lips, the very white skin-Venice by way of Rome, I thought. But her classic profile, with almost no indent between brow and nose, was pure Greek.
One of the workmen found a stub of pencil in a pocket of his coveralls and approached the dish shyly, holding out a scrap of paper. She signed her autograph, and he beamed and went back to his work, dropping a glass brick. She wiggled the cornflower blue skirt over to the elevator; at the same moment the door slid soundlessly back as if it had been waiting just for her. It slid silently shut, and she went down and out of the workmen's lives, out of the mathematicians' and the computer's lives-but not out of mine.
When I turned back to the big playing-card door, it was still ajar. A man stood there, short, broad of shoulder, dark, with a low hairline and sleek dark hair graying at the temples, and a suave and flashing white-toothed smile, as Continental as his business address.
"Mr. Drum?" he said, looking up at me. "I see you are prompt. I appreciate that." His accent was slight and hard to place. Middle Europe, with some years in the States, I guessed, but he probably had more countries in his background than I had fillings in my teeth.
"Thank Swissair and Boeing," I said as we s