Bill Todd -- A Man of Three Names
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 Chapter 15


The man who came confidently into Sandy's office and shook her hand wasn't large, but he seemed larger than life, like a movie star or politician. On the other hand, she didn't recognize his face, nor his name, Fred Nagel. It was hard to believe that he had come for the matching service, and, after a few minutes, he confided,

"Besides trying to find someone, I'm also playing a bit of a joke on your boss, who's an old friend of mine. Just now, I waited til he left, but, sooner or later, I'll meet him in the outer office. I'm curious to see whether he recognizes me."

Sandy wasn't sure that she was supposed to help people play games with Dr. Narrison, particularly when they might not be entirely friendly games. She asked,

"Will he recognize your name?"

"They went to work on my name at the immigration office, but he might still guess."

This last seemed to be something of a joke. The man did have a bit of an accent, a rather charming one, but she doubted that immigration officers still assigned people arbitrary names. Could he have changed it himself for purposes of concealment?

In the course of asking the standard questions, Sandy discovered that Mr. Nagel had more than a little wealth. At least if he wasn't a con man. This last was a distinct possibility in Sandy's mind. He was a little too charming and a little too comfortable with himself. On the other hand, such people were often genuinely successful in business.

Mr. Nagel had hardly looked at the name-deleted files of his prospective matches when he remarked pleasantly,

"I doubt that anyone on your list will be appropriate for me. That is, apart from you yourself."

Sandy had encountered this sort of thing before, and she was just beginning her standard riposte when he broke in,

"I bet you're curious about Dr. Narrison. Come out to dinner with me, and I'll tell you all about him."

That stopped Sandy short. Her curiosity about Dr. Narrison had become almost obsessive. Moreover, whatever else her client might be, he was highly civilized. There was no risk, and, if it might involve a slight bending of the rules she had set for herself, they were, after all, her own rules.

They went to a restaurant that didn't even have a menu. The waiter, who looked more like a university professor than a waiter, recited the names of the dishes in French. Prices were never mentioned and Sandy, a little embarrassed and out of her depth, chose the dish whose name she thought she could best pronounce. She estimated that her dress cost about a tenth of those adorning the other women in the room.

Mr. Nagel, apparently sensing her feelings, assured her,

"You're easily the best-looking woman here. The other women know it, too. They'll make catty little remarks about you to their escorts. Since there's nothing wrong with you, they'll find fault with your clothes."

It was an unusual compliment which caused Sandy to laugh. She replied,

"That one over there is telling her husband that I got my dress in a dime store."

"Could be. But she herself would look better in something less elaborate. Her jewelry is also too expensive."

"Is that bad?"

"It's usually an attempt to distract the attention from other things. You don't need any jewelry at all."

"That's good. I don't have any."

Sandy was actually feeling quite comfortable in her new surroundings when the appetizers arrived. She was dealing effectively with an artichoke when her companion volunteered,

"When I first met your Dr. Narrison, his name was Leif Thostolfson. He was an Icelander who'd become a German citizen. He was also third in command of a disguised German surface raider on which I served in the first war."

That was a bit of a shock. Calvin thought that their boss might originally have been a Finn who'd fought in lots of wars. But, actually, that was a rather clever guess. Calvin had caught Dr. Narrison's Scandinavian look and tone, and also the manner of the long-retired warrior. There followed an account of an encounter with an English cruiser. Mr. Nagel concluded,

"Leif's very good in a crisis. I was on the bridge, too, but I was immobilized by the searchlight, just like a rabbit caught in the proverbial automobile headlights. Leif casually moved over to the torpedo control and timed it just right."

"You're very unusual, Mr. Nagel. Most people, over time, make themselves the heroes of episodes like that."

"Call me Fred. I don't engage in self-deceit. It's too dangerous."

"There must have been other dangerous times in the war."

"We were too young to worry much about danger. Just imagine two young guys in command of a ship loaded with guns and torpedoes, completely independent of any kind of command, and free to roam the world."

Sandy, laughing, asked,

"Did you go to the south sea islands and find beautiful native women?"

"We ended up on the south coast of Sumatra. That's where an English cruiser finally caught us and sank us."

"You couldn't torpedo this one?"

"It was clear weather and her captain was smart. He stood off outside of our torpedo range and destroyed us with his guns. We took to the boats, but the shells kept falling among us. In the end, Leif and I were the only two to make it to shore."

"And that's when you met the native women?"

"There were no people at all on that shore, but we climbed through a mountain pass and came down in an inhabited district. Leif went back to being an Icelander, and I passed myself off as a Dane. We made our way to Surabaya in Java, and we had so much fun there that we remained for quite a while. Then, eventually, the war ended and I came to America to make money. Leif went back to Europe."

"He's never let on a word of this. I didn't know he was from Iceland, and I didn't know he'd ever been to sea."

"He's unnecessarily secretive. Lots of Americans fought for Germany in that war, and we don't have anything to hide. We were very good to the merchant seamen we took as prisoners, and they all survived. Still, I wouldn't tell him that you know.

Sandy realized that she had fallen a little deeper, not into a trap, but into an awkward position. She had intended to tell Dr. Narrison about Fred, and could possibly have said that she had gone out to dinner with him to find out what he might be up to. But, of course, Dr. Narrison would now wonder how much Fred had told her. Assuming that he really did want to keep his past a secret, he would no longer be comfortable with her.

Fred then seemed curious about Sandy. She said,

"I'm afraid I don't have any romantic secrets like that. I'm just a small-town girl."

"But an intelligent well-educated one with an interesting job."

"It is interesting at times, certainly. Your old friend is very good to me, and allows me much more responsibility than a large organization would."

"He was the same with me. I was only nineteen, but there were times when he went ashore and left me in command of the ship. At all times, he discussed important decisions with me before he made them."

"Yes, he does that with me, too."

It did seem that Fred had admiration and friendly feelings toward Dr. Narrison. Perhaps these old seamen had always played games with one another.

After dinner, they took a walk to the lake front to aid their digestion. It was cold, but also clear and beautiful. They walked away from the wind, and, at one point, they could see the lights of a ship offshore. It was fun to be with a man who knew, not only about ships, but about the great world in general. It was also good to have Fred's arm around her, although she could hardly feel it through her coat. The fact that he was some forty years older didn't seem to matter so very much.

Rosalie Morales was beginning to get the idea that Dr. Goodman Narrison was going to marry her. It wasn't that he wanted to, exactly. Indeed, he would sometimes slide away a little. But she could overcome those slitherings. Then, to make up for them, he would come closer than he had been before.

Sensing that it was time for a major initiative, Rosalie told him, quite truthfully, that she had stopped seeing other men. She went on to explain that, while she very much liked Paul Hamilton, that gentlest of men, her feelings wouldn't allow her to continue to entertain even him. And Goodman had accepted all that without the least objection!

Ever since that happy day, he had been confiding things that she knew to be extraordinarily sensitive. Even now, he was telling her about the loss of his ship.

"It was in the September of nineteen eighteen, almost the end of the war, and we ploughed into an uncharted reef off the coast of Sumatra. We threw everything we could overboard, but she wouldn't come off. Then, when the wind and sea rose, she started to break up. So we took to the boats. We were at sea for three days in an open boat, but the first mate and I made the coast in our boat. So far as I know, the others were all lost."

Rosalie tried to be comforting. It must still be a painful memory for Goodman. Not only had he lost his beloved ship, but also the faithful crew who had served him so well. She asked,

"Were the people on shore good to you?"

"There weren't any where we landed. We climbed over some mountains and reached an inhabited region."

"So you must have been practically naked and penniless."

"We didn't have much clothing, but I had lots of money."

It turned out that the ship had set out with a large sum of money in various currencies so that they could buy supplies in neutral ports. It had been in the captain's safe when he was killed, but Goodman found the key in the pocket of the dead man's trousers. As he said,

"I continued to keep the money in the safe, but, of course, I took it with me when we abandoned ship."

"So, then, two young men and a lot of money! You must have had a good time."

"We did for a while. But the money ran out just about when the war ended. I couldn't get an officer's berth without any papers, but I shipped as an ordinary seaman aboard a Dutch freighter. When we got to Amsterdam, I returned to Germany to get copies of my certificates. When I arrived, things were chaotic."

"You must have been a hero in Germany."

"Not really. People wanted to forget the war, and, anyhow, our victories had never been in the news. Only the English knew thay had a missing cruiser, and there couldn't have been any survivors in the cold water. So even they didn't know what happened to her."

"Then, when you lost your crew, that left only the two of you knowing what happened."

"Yes. Myself and Manfred, wherever he is."

"Aren't you curious about him?"

"He wanted to go to America to get rich. He was an enterprising young man, and he may well have succeeded."

"Couldn't you find him if you tried? At the library they have phone books for each major city. I could go through them. Does he have an unusual last name?"

"Fairly so, at least in America, but he might have changed it. Anyhow, Rosie, I meant to ask you something. Would you like to be in an experiment?

"You mean at the Berwyn Associates?"

"Yes. We're doing some sensitivity studies to see whether people can detect very slight electrical currents."

"You aren't giving people electric shocks, are you?"

"No, you stop the current as soon as you can feel the least tingle."

Rosalie agreed. She couldn't imagine what was going on, but she was sure that the experiment had some hidden importance for Dr. Narrison.

It wasn't until Sandy put on her dress, one borrowed from Susan Gatewood, that it really hit her that she was preparing for a date with a man who was old enough to be her grandfather.

The wool dress was a trifle tight over the bust, but not enough to be in bad taste. Besides, this particular grandfather, if he was one, would probably appreciate it. Laughing to herself, she wondered if he was used to the sort of Parisian women who would unzip themselves before the man's arrival and then ask him to zip them up. If there really were such women. In the event, she had hardly mounted her shoes and presented herself to herself in the mirror when the doorbell rang.

Trying to walk in a sophisticated way as she led Fred into her newly cleaned apartment, it occurred to Sandy that his compliments were always unusual and original. He might have used them on a thousand other women, but she, at any rate, hadn't heard anything like them. When she offered him wine, he accepted immediately, but a tiny shadow crossed his face when he saw the brand. There were so many things that she would have to learn!

The restaurant this time was an informal one with a south-sea island motif. There were lots of exotic drinks with fruits and juices disguising the alcohol, and Sandy found that she liked them. It wasn't long before she got him to talk about his experiences in the East Indies.

"We almost immediately discovered the fascination of the islands. On one day we saw a flower three feet across, a tame rhinoceros, and a negrito."

"What's a negrito?"

"A fairly direct and unchanged descendant of the earliest human beings hundreds of thousands of years ago. They're small and black with kinky hair, rather like the pygmys of Africa. Both the flower and the negrito were ugly."

"How about the rhinoceros?"

"He wasn't any beauty, but he kept the monkey-eating eagles at bay by charging them when they landed in the vicinity of our compound."

"I've seen some National Geographic pictures. Are there palm trees everywhere?"

"Yes, but they're not like the Florida ones. They're immensely tall and straight with no lower branches. Their palms combine to form a canopy high overhead, and it's surprisingly cool underneath. It was the dry season when we got there, and, with abundant fruit everywhere, you can manage quite nicely."

"So there's no need for anyone to work?"

"It's not quite paradise, and there were Europeans who told people they ought to work. But their voices tended to get lost in the immensity of nature. After all, there were volcanos capable of blowing to kingdom come everything created by man in a few seconds. Krakatoa blotted out the sun for months."

"Where did you live? Beneath a volcano?"

"Not far from one. Most people live at the water's edge. We bought an old green sloop and anchored her in a lagoon, a hundred yards from shore."

"Was that to get away from the eagles and the rhinoceros?"

"There were also some very beautiful but very poisonous snakes. They swam, but they couldn't climb the high sides of that old sloop. We'd lounge on her deck as she rolled gently at her anchor, and we could see under the palms on shore as the women made dinner. Then, when we could smell the food, we'd row in."

"Did they feel sorry for you and give you food?"

"They might have, but we had the money that had been sent with the ship to buy coal. We could buy anything we wanted."

"Did you buy the cooks as well as their food?"

"The food was very attractive, but the cooks generally weren't."

"I suppose the beautiful women must have sat apart with exotic snakes wound around their limbs. The danger, as well as the beauty, would have attracted you."

"I should get you a lovely turqoise snake to go around one arm. Much better than the jewelry you say you don't have."

"Would it bite?"

"Only on command. You could wear the snake and nothing else, and still be safe."

"You're avoiding my question about women."

"Well, yes, we did find women. But that was mainly after we moved to Java and took up residence in Surabaya."

"I've heard of Surabaya. There's a song about it."

"That's Kurt Weill's song, 'Surabaya Johny', pronounced 'Yohny.' Neither Weill nor his friends had been there. Among other things, they thought that the word 'mahogany' was the name of a woman. But, even in their ignorance, they caught the romance of the place. Mata Hari was from there too, but she'd already been executed as a spy in Paris by the time we got there."

"Did Dr. Narrison find someone like her?"

"No. Leif had found his woman in Madagascar, though she left him flat. He dallied with Javanese girls, but he hadn't recovered from Sumita."

"Was Sumita beautiful and charming?"

"I only met her once. He didn't want to share her. She was a half-caste, Indian and French. Not my type, exactly. But she had a presence, I'll say that for her."

"I didn't know he was romantic enough for that."

"He wasn't, really. But the circumstances favored it. When a man's spent weeks and months straining his eyes searching the horizons for the enemy, he's ready for a little romance."

"What about you?"

"I would probably have fallen for Sumita if I'd found her first. Apart from her, there wasn't anyone even vaguely attractive in Ananalava. Probably in all of Madagascar."

"Did you find a woman in Java?"

"Yes. It was my turn, you see."

"Was she like Mata Hari?"

"Not at all. Mata Hari, apart from being a German spy, was a dancer and a bit of a prostitute. My lady came from pretty nearly the other end of the social scale."

"Then she wasn't a negrito?"

Fred laughed at the thought.

"Naka was descended from a Mongol general. Kublai Khan dispatched an expedition to conquer Java in the thirteenth century. It failed in the end, but some Mongols remained and became resident, creating one of the many kinds of elite on the island. Six hundred years later, some of their ladies had become rather like the ones who run the volunteer programs at the Chicago Art Institute - patronesses of the arts in short."

"Did they give teas and parties in each other's honor and model clothes at charity fashion shows?"

"That's exactly what they did! The fashions centered around the art of batik. Do you know what that is?"

"Yes. I've had only imitation things, but even they were nice. The hand-made originals must be extraordinary."

"Indeed they are. I first saw Naka when I slipped into a private room at the main hotel and she was up on a stage in a full-skirted batik dress that came to her ankles. She was a complete austere Mongol princess lording it over the locals in finery that had been stolen from them."

It occurred to Sandy that Fred sometimes sounded like Dr. Narrison. She replied,

"If you thought of her that way, you must have been loading all sorts of alien symbols on to the poor girl."

Fred laughed in his rather pecular choking way.

"Are you telling me that I entered unwisely into a relation that couldn't have worked?"

"I suppose so."

"You're right, of course. But it did work for a while, at least up to a point."

"I'm glad you got some satisfaction."

"I was as crazy about her as Leif had been about Sumita. Everything had to be quite formal between us in the presence of an interpreter and a chaperon, but a surprising amount can happen even then."

"So you each had your exotic princess."

"Leif had two. He took Naka away from me."

"That was horrid! After all you'd been through together."

"He didn't even want her that much. She was just a pretty girl to him. He also managed to get her away from the chaperon. It turned out that she wasn't as austere as I had imagined."

"Did her own people throw her out after that?"

"I don't know. They may have."

"I'm surprised you didn't kill him."

"I might have if he hadn't been bigger and stronger. Instead, I stole all the ship's money that Leif had brought ashore and came to America."

Sandy was momentarily shocked, but found herself siding with Fred. She asked,

"It wasn't really his money anyway, was it?"

"The German navy had provided it so that we could buy coal and supplies in neutral ports. But the Kaiser didn't have long to go at that point. I don't know who's money it was. Anyhow, it got me off to a very nice start in America."

Afterwards, they went for another walk along the lake. It was even colder this time, particularly on Sandy's almost bare legs. But she was also a little drunk. Fred put his hands inside her coat and kissed her much more expertly than had the college boys.

Bill Todd -- A Man of Three Names
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